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Gouache over pencil on cardboard
Signed and dated upper left: “DODO 29”
‘ULK’, 3 May 1929, p. 8, with the following caption: “Solche Mondnacht stimmt mich stets melancholisch, direkt willensschwach werde ich – widerstandslos.” – „Komisch, und ich schnappe bloss auf Neumond ein!“
Born in Berlin to a comfortably-off middle-class Jewish family, Dörte Wolff trained as a graphic designer and fashion illustrator at the Kunst- und Gewerbeschule Reimann, a private art school in Berlin, from 1923 to 1926. Working under the pseudonym ‛Dodo’, she began her career making fashion plates for magazines. She went on to produce illustrations for ULK, a widely distributed satirical journal based in Berlin. Between 1927 and 1929 she reached the high point of her artistic career. In this short period, over sixty of her gouaches were published as full-page and double-page illustrations in ULK. The drawings are remarkable for their vivid colour and vibrant draughtsmanship and are emblematic of the lifestyle and aesthetic of the Golden Twenties.
A more romantic or exotic setting for a tryst is hard to imagine. An elegant young woman and a sleek older man in evening dress meet under palm fronds on a moonlit summer’s night. A full moon hangs low over the horizon and a stretch of inky-blue, moonlit ocean acts as a backdrop. Not a single figure is in sight to disturb the couple. Despite their physical closeness there is no mistaking the emotional distance between them.
The present gouache appeared in the magazine ULK in 1929 complemented with a caption in dialogue form which provides a trenchant, albeit ironic clue to the source of the couple’s discord. The admirer confides: “These moonlit nights make me feel melancholic, completely softheaded and submissive.” The response is chilly: “How odd – bliss for me is a new moon!” The reader is left to guess how the suitor handled the rebuff and whether he retried his luck.
In the present gouache Dodo’s portrayal of the flapper, a young, ‘new woman’ who upturned ideas about how modern women should live and went on to be an icon of the 1920s, is satirical and at the same time cloaked in humour. Such young women embodied disdain for convention, sought economic independence and pursued fulfilment and freedom. Dodo’s drawing depicts a self-assured young woman who deftly counters the advances of an elegant admirer, either deeming him too unattractive or demanding that he invest a little more effort in winning her favours. But the gouache is also a representation of a strikingly stylish young woman with a voguish bob artfully dyed to match the coral tones of her makeup, ring and necklace. The mix of self-empowerment and femininity that the present figure represents is not just a notable trait of women in the Weimar Republic. It is also the unmistakable hallmark of all Dodo’s female protagonists. It was they who propelled her work to such heights of popularity within such a short space of time, and they too were responsible for renewed international awareness of her life and oeuvre in recent years.
Dodo’s oeuvre was rediscovered in 2012 when exhibitions were staged by the Staatliche Museen in Berlin and at the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum in London. She also featured alongside Otto Dix, George Grosz and other leading ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ artists in the major exhibition ‘Glanz und Elend in der Weimarer Republik’ [Splendour and Misery in the Weimar Republic] staged at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt in 2017-8. Her work has now been shown in six important museum exhibitions and is to be included in forthcoming exhibitions marking the centenary of the Weimar Republic.