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09 January 2015

Einar Wegener, artist

Part I:  Einar Wegener, artist
Part II: Lili Ilse Elvenes, surgery and womanhood
Part III:  Lili Elbe, media construct

(all page references are to the Blue Boat edition of Man Into Woman, 2004)

Part III will be a discussion of the fact that Man Into Woman appears to be an unreliable narration.  However without it we have almost no story at all.  So in parts I and II details from the book will be used.   However bear in mind that this is tentative.


Einar Mogens Andreas Wegener (1882 - 1931), the son of a grocer in Vejle, Denmark, was educated as a painter at Vejle Tekniske Gymnasium and then Copenhagen Kunstakademi (Art School) where he met Gerda Gottlieb (1886-1940), the only survivor of four daughters of a pastor. Einar and Gerda married in 1904.

After graduation Gerda exhibited at the Autumn Art Exhibition, The Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition and the Journalists' Union. Her breakthrough was in 1907 when she won a competition organized by Politiken newspaper, and in the same year several female painters including Gerda were rejected from the Charlottenborg Exhibition – which became known as the Peasant Painter Controversy.

One of Gerda's early commissions was a portrait of Anna Larssen (1875 - 1955), the popular actress. One day Anna was unable to attend, and on the phone suggested that Einar's legs be used as had been done once before. This time Gerda fully dressed Einar in a dress and wig. In the end Anna did arrive, and on seeing Einar exclaimed:
"I will christen you my girlie. You shall receive a particularly lovely musical name. For example Lili. What do you say to Lili?" (p 67)
A few weeks later Lili appeared at the Artists' Ball and was a great success. Gerda found Lili to be a charming companion. Einar did landscape paintings and Gerda illustrated books and fashion magazines. Einar received the Neuhausens prize in 1907 and exhibited at Kunstnernes Efterårsudstilling and at Vejle Art Museum.

Lili/Einar was an open secret, and in 1912 when Einar and Gerda decided to leave Copenhagen, a satirical poem by Vigge Afrelius, was published in Eksta Bladet, a sister publication to Politiken, that included the lines: "hvis vi tro kan, hvad Saga fortæller,/Michelangelo og som Zahrtmann/you bru'r kun mandelige Modeller! (if we can believe/what the story tells you used/such as Michelangelo and Zahrtmann male models!)".

After travels in Italy and France Gerda and Einar moved to Paris later that year, and at first stayed at the Hôtel d’Alsace, and were shocked to find themselves in room 16, the very room where Oscar Wilde had died twelve years earlier. They took inspiration and read Wilde's writings out loud to each other.

Gerda worked for Vogue and La Vie Parisienne. She also held regular exhibitions at the Ole Haslunds gallery in Copenhagen, and came to be considered a major Art Deco artist and was well known for her erotica. Einar exhibited in the Salon de Paris and Salon d'Automne in Paris. However he de-emphasized his own work to help Gerda, and became her favourite model.
Lili painted by Gerda

Gerda became famous for her paintings of women, and it was later discovered that most of them were actually of Lili. In 1924, Einar, on a trip back home, was interviewed by the København newspaper, and spoke about dressing as a woman during Paris Carnival.
Through the 1920s Einer was increasingly Lili. She attended public events, entertained at home as Lili, and went on trips to the countryside. She passed well and men even proposed to her. Gerda introduced her as Einar’s sister. Einar was often depressed and suffered from coughing spells; however Lili was bright and happy: Gerda came to prefer the company of Lili. Einar in male clothing was several times taken as a woman in trousers.

One day Einar said:
"Really I cannot imagine what existence would be like if Lili should one day vanish for ever, or if she should no longer look young and beautiful, Then she would no longer have any justification for living at all."
Gerda replied:
"In recent months I have felt prickings of conscience because I was, to a certain extent, the cause of creating Lili, of enticing her out of you, and thus becoming responsible for a disharmony in you which reveals itself most distinctly on those days when Lili does not appear." (p92).
and she continued:
"It often happens thatwhen she poses for me as a model a strange feeling comes over me that it is she whom I am creating and forming rather than the girl whom I am representing on my canvas.  Sometimes it seems to me that here is something which is stronger than we are, something which makes us powerless and will thrust us aside, as if, indeed, it wanted to be revenged on us for having played with it." (p93)

Later Einar wrote:  "Formerly I had found distraction in reading.  Now I never opened a book or journal.  What were the fates of strange persons to me, unless I could find consolation in reading about a person of my own kind?  But of such a person no author had been able to able to write, because it had never occurred to any author that such a person could ever have existed."  (p110-1)  (This was 20 years after the publication of Magnus Hirschfeld's Die Transvestiten, and 2 years after Havelock Ellis' Eonism and Other Supplementary Studies.) 

 Paintings by Einar Wegener     Paintings by Gerda Wegener  

Do click through to see paintings by both Einar and Gerda.   In Part III Louise Lassan will describe  Einar’s paintings as ‘virile’ but I do not see them as so.  They strike me as ordinary landscapes.   To my eye Gerda was obviously the more adventurous painter.

Some sources claim that Gerda was lesbian.   I found no confirmation of this, and of course she will re-marry to a man as soon as her marriage to Einar is annulled in Part II.

Presumably Einar and Gerda were in Paris during the Great War.  However there is no mention of it in Man into Woman.  

Anna Larssen was a popular actress in the 1900s.   Surprisingly, she quit acting in 1909 and became a Pentecostal minister, and with her second husband founded the Danish Apostolic Church.  No date is given for when Anna named Einar as Lili, but 1907 must be a terminus post quem and 1909 a terminus ante quem.  Thus it must have been only months before her abandonment of her acting career to dedicate her life to God.

The poem published on the departure of Einar and Gerda from Copenhagen in 1912:.

[...] Jolies Popo’s – petites Nichon’s
kan ingen som Fru Gerda tegne –
og ganske ligegyldigt hvor –
for sligt ser ens ud allevegne! [...]

Med Kunstens Store du i Slægt er,
hvis vi kan tro, hvad Saga fortæller,
som Michelangelo og Zahrtmann
du bru’r kun mandelige Modeller!

Den Ting har saare mig bedrøvet
og din er Skylden, skønne Tegner!
Tænk! Jeg har glædet mig ved Former,
Der rim’ligvis har tilhørt Ejnar! [...]

[...] Pretty butt - small breasts
no one like Mrs. Gerda can draw,
and no matter wherever -
as such looks the same everywhere. [...]

The Great Art thou art related,
[and] if we can believe what the story tells
you used such as Michelangelo and Zahrtmann male models!

The thing I was extremely saddened
and yours is the guilt, beautiful illustrator!
Imagine that! I'm pleased me to forms
that have probably heard Ejnar! [...]
  •  "Afrelius, Vigge:" Ved en Bortrejse ". In: Ekstra Bladet, 04.03.1913; 2.

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