Object of the Month: March 2021

This month we look at 'Self Portait with a Cat' by German Expressionist painter Lotte Laserstein

Published: 25 February 2021

Chosen by

Emily, Digital Team


German Expressionism

Object Name

Self Portrait with Cat

Place Made

Berlin, Germany

Object Information

Lotte Laserstein was a German expressionist painter and Leicester Museum & Galleries have several pieces of her work in our collection.

Laserstein’s ‘Self Portrait with a Cat’ was a representation of her views of identity and status in the 1920s. Historically, many female artists, when creating their own portraits, have struggled to overcome the assumptions that come with their gender. Laserstein’s work presents a challenge to the ideas of the ‘female artist’ and indeed womanhood; it presents her in work clothes, with no makeup and her hair short, showing very little of the femininity which was expected at the time. Even the raised eyebrow seems to question the viewer’s assumptions. This portrait expresses well her approach to art and her approach to life in general.

Many of her other portraits also depict independent women in urban settings or in leisure pursuits, wearing androgynous clothing in the style of the ‘Neue Frau’ or ‘New Woman’ in 1920s and 30s Germany. This movement, as well as empowering women and changing society's perceptions, may have also been a way for LGBT+ women to embrace and celebrate their own identities. 

Laserstein was born in Preussich-Holland, Prussia and was one of the first female students to study at the Berlin Academy 1921-27. She won the Academy’s Gold Medal in 1925 and after leaving the Academy in 1927 set up her own studio in Berlin.

In 1934, under new Nazi racial laws, she was labelled as ‘Three quarters Jewish’ and was barred from exhibiting in public. In 1935 she was forced to abandon her studio and in 1937 she emigrated to Sweden.

Laserstein continued to paint in exile, and throughout the war and beyond she managed to secure numerous commissioned portraits and landscapes. However, throughout the 1950s and beyond, in the changing post war climate, her life and reputation slipped into obscurity.

Fortunately, she lived to see her long overdue recognition, in exhibitions in 1987 at the Belgrave Gallery and Agnew & Sons, London and a follow-up in 1990 at Agnew’s.

Find out more about Leicester’s German Expressionist art collection at our dedicated website.

You can also read an article published by Art UK about Lotte Laserstein's life and art on the Art UK website.