Fembio Special: Famous Women from Hanover, Germany
(Justine Adele Martha Schwichtenberg [eigentlicher Name])
(actually Justine Adele Martha Schwichtenberg)
* 5 June 1896 in Hanover
+ 31 July 1945 in Sulzburg (Baden)
German designer and painter
At one time or another we have all held in our hands some object that Martel Schwichtenberg created or helped to design – a package of Leibniz cookies or some other product from the Bahlsen company. For almost 30 years Schwichtenberg worked for the Hanover biscuit firm as a graphic artist, and the company logo that she developed is still used today.
The artistically minded Hermann Bahlsen first assigned the young painter to do graphic work in 1917 – she was just 21, had studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule, or school of applied arts, in Düsseldorf, and exhibited at the Folkwang-Museum in Hagen. For Bahlsen’s products and advertising campaigns Schwichtenberg always came up with an original image – one of the first examples of “corporate design” in those early days of advertising art. In addition she created stained-glass windows and brilliantly colored wall-paintings for the factory buildings in Hanover and collaborated with the Worpswede sculptor Bernhard Hoetger on Bahlsen’s visionary TET-City project, which was, however, never realized.
Schwichtenberg’s great years in Berlin began in 1920: financially secure through her contract with Bahlsen, she set up a studio in Charlottenburg, joined the Werkbund and the revolutionary Novembergruppe, danced the nights away at artists’ balls and married her painter colleague Robert W. Huth (she divorced him after three years, however). She spent several summers in Pomerania, where she captured the life of peasant women and fishermen in powerful etchings and woodcuts. She transformed other travel impressions, for example from Italy, in paintings which grew increasingly light and more flatly two-dimensional, and finally, at the end of the 1920’s, she had her greatest public successes with a series of portraits of her friends from the Berlin art scene (among them Tilla Durieux, Herwarth Walden, Barlach, Alfred Flechtheim).
Whether it was out of political farsightedness or love of adventure is unclear, but Schwichtenberg moved to South Africa at the beginning of 1933, where she built a new life, apparently without great difficulty. The African dream ended tragically six years later: a fire destroyed her house and studio along with around 400 pieces of work. On a private visit in Munich, Schwichtenberg was caught by the outbreak of war and could not leave the country again. She hid in southern Germany, lived for a time in a sanatorium, fought her depression and alcoholism, finally developed cancer and died, soon after the war’s end, lonely and miserable, aged just 49.
For additional information please consult the German version.
Author: Andrea Schweers
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