The Story of Erotic Artist Gerda Wegener and Gender Pioneer Lili Elbe

Gerda, left. Lili, right.

I have a thing for Paris in the 1920s and a fascination with the concept of the grey areas between male and female. As such, when I found this article about early 20th century painters Gerda and Einar Wegener to be very fascinating.

The story begins one hundred years ago. In 1912, artist couple Gerda and Einar Wegener arrived in Paris, hoping for greater prosperity and freedom than their conservative hometown of Copengahen would allow. They checked into the Hôtel d’Alsace, where – they were shocked to learn – they had been placed into the very same room where Oscar Wilde had once died twelve years earlier. The couple spent the next few days reading Wilde’s works out loud to each other. The forbidden sexuality, transformation, beauty and tragedy in Wilde’s work was reflected in the couple’s following years together.

In Paris, Gerda quickly became well-known for her sensual, free-spirited illustrations. Her work often featured a mysterious beauty with a stylish short bob, full lips, and beguiling brown eyes. In 1913, the public was shocked to learn the identity of the mystery model: Gerda’s husband, Einar. Einar was transitioning to living life openly as woman named Lili Elbe.

The article goes on to describe their relationship, Einar’s transformation into Lile Elbe, which culminated in the world’s first sex change operation, and Lili’s eventual death due to a botched operation to implant a uterus. There is a great amount of courage in what she did, considering both the social ostracism she experienced and the fact that this kind of operation was totally unheard of at the time. I don’t know how much Lile Elbe is known within the trans community, which I am not a member of, but this is certainly a story that more people should know about. It would seem a bit pointless to rewrite the entire story, because Nadya Lev over at Coilhouse has already done a really great job at that. The link is at the end of this article, and it is something you should all read.

I also need to give Gerda here due, she is a pretty good artist herself. Her work has a very soft, fleshy quality that works well for art deco erotica and has nice colours and round shapes. Her work was largely lost after her death, but rediscovered and is starting to get some attention. I really don’t know what else to say except look at her work in the link below. I’m not yet ballsy enough to put erotic art on my blog, so link. Below. Look at it. There are lesbians.

Coilhouse: The Incredibly True Adventures of Gerda Wegener and Lili Elbe


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