Elsa Thiemann

1910Thorn-Mocker, Germany | 1981Hambourg, Germany

German photographer.

Elsa Thiemann (née Franke) was a Bauhausmädel (Bauhaus girl): in 1929, she followed in the footsteps of many German women in the Weimar Republic who dreamed of a career in art, and enrolled at the Dessau Bauhaus school. It was probably as a result of discussions with her teacher of drawing, the painter Margarete Kubicka (1891-1984), that the young E. Franke decided to turn to a decidedly modern form of art. M. Kubicka, the wife of the Expressionist painter Stanislaw Kubicki (1889-1942), was very close to the avant-garde circles of Berlin, especially the Dadaists. During her first semester at the Bauhaus, E. Thiemann attended courses run by Josef Albers (1888-1976) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), then by Paul Klee (1879-1942) and Joost Schmidt (1893-1948) in the printing and advertising workshop. In 1930, she moved to the photography workshop directed by Walter Peterhans (1897-1950). She graduated in 1931, which was all the more astonishing as students rarely made it to the end of this intensive two-year training course.

During the 1930s, her abstract photographic work came under two categories. The first was photographs that obeyed the aesthetic rules of New Objectivity. The second was photograms that she used as models for some of the wallpaper produced by the Bauhaus and the Gebrüder Rasch factory in Hanover, reflecting an aesthetic approach closer to that of New Vision artists such as László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946). In the first case, she put the rigorous teachings and scientific approach that she was taught by W. Peterhans into practice. In the case of her wallpaper designs, she used photograms of flowers, feathers, stems, or fruit as the basis for more ornamental arrangements, using white ink to rework her motifs, while leaving areas of colour. She then had the challenge of creating a symmetrical and regular pattern that complied with the rules of wallpaper design on the basis of these highly original compositions. Her tightly framed Rätselbilder (Puzzle pictures), meanwhile, were photographs of everyday objects. Here her daring viewpoints underpin a surprising aesthetic approach reminiscent of the early days of photographic abstraction. The viewer is presented with objects under a light that emphasizes the complexity of their texture and material nature, rendering every nuance and contrast. Thiemann gave up photography in 1960, when her husband, the painter Hans Thiemann, was appointed professor at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts.

Laura Weber

Translated from French by Thames & Hudson Ltd.

As published in Women in Abstraction © 2021 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London

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