How women artists got established in the Munich exhibition scene – analyzing catalogue data from 1905-1915, by Nike Seidl

Damenakademie München

Does art have a gender? This question might spontaneously be answered with a “no”. However, when Donald E. Gordon created a directory of modern artists on the basis of exhibition catalogues from 1900 to 1916, only 21 out of more than 400 artist names were female.1 The Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME), which provides the opportunity for systematic exploration of catalogue data, led to a seminar paper that deals with the exhibition practice of female artists in Munich between 1905 and 1915.2 The analysis of catalogue data, combined with the examination of historical sources, introduces a new perspective in the field of women’s studies. It includes both female artists who have already received regional or supra-regional attention as well as those with low visibility. With the help of the data I aim to shine light on some of the particular conditions women artists were faced with at the turn of the century. In view of the local appearance of the women’s rights movement, were there already tendencies towards equal rights in the Munich art exhibitions during this period?

In quantitative comparison, Munich does not stand out as the artistic metropolis of women. Their percentage share of Munich artists represented in DoME is 10.6%, which is well behind cities such as London, Vienna and Moscow (Fig. 1). However, the increasing formation of avant-garde artists’ groups at the beginning of the new century represents a crucial point at which women and their artistic work became increasingly visible in public. It wasn’t until 1920 that they obtained the right to enroll at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste München –the alternative was expensive, private lessons in artists’ studios that were only accessible for financially secure women. Faced with social change and economic pressure to work, the demand for adequate, equal women’s education was raised by both artist associations and the women’s movement. In order to provide professional training for women artists, the Künstlerinnen-Verein München founded the Damenakademie in 1882 as a self-help organization, and by the turn of the century had gained a large influx of female students.3 The women’s rights movement in Munich on the other hand, drew attention to the urgency of their demand with a women’s rights congress and – until then unheard of – a public demonstration in 1912.4

Fig. 1: Gender-Distribution of Artists by City, calculation based on Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME), Vienna 2019.

Did the participation of women artists in exhibition associations have a legitimate basis, was it a privilege, or was there systematic exclusion? The chart of female participants in exhibitions by month illustrates how consistently the annual exhibition-program in Munich and thus the participation of women was structured (Fig. 2, large dots indicate two parallel exhibitions). The Secession usually started each season in March with a “Spring Exhibition”, which was dedicated to young artists.5 In May or June the “International Annual Exhibition” followed, where both regular members and international artists met. In December the “Winter Exhibition” closed the season with a presentation of two or three artists, but these rarely included women. It also shows that the number of exhibitions per year in which women participated has increased since 1910. In addition, every four years an extended “International Exhibition” with the participation of a large number of women was held as a cooperation between the Secession and the Münchener Künstlergenossenschaft (MKG).

Fig. 2: Female participants in exhibitions by month, Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME), Wien 2019.

Nevertheless, the presence of women artists in these prominent exhibition associations seems to have been initially questioned or even concealed. The statutes of the Münchener Künstlergenossenschaft of 1868 allowed membership to anyone who practices the profession independently.6 The membership list of 1880 counts 28 female and 585 male artists. In 1891, however, an amendment to the statutes was announced in the magazine Die Kunst für Alle, according to which female artists were now also admitted.7 This suggests that, there were – at least temporarily – further restrictions for female artists. The Verein bildender Künstler Münchens ‘Secession’, the second major organization in Munich, does not list a single woman as a member in its memorandum of 1892.8 Even in 1911, when a new list was published in the course of the “International Exhibition”, no female artist was mentioned.9 In contrast, the catalogues show that a number of female artists had participated in this and previous exhibitions. Emilie van Hallavanya, for example, could be seen in no less than nine spring-exhibitions and two international exhibitions in Munich from 1905 to 1915. The same period, Maria Caspar-Filser participated seven times in the annual spring exhibition, one time at the international exhibition and even one time in winter exhibition. Thus, both the Münchener Künstlergenossenschaft and the Secession, had no continuous official membership status for women artists, despite featuring them repeatedly in exhibitions.

Furthermore, the admission of the artworks was usually tied to the status of membership. For the time being, the conditions under which artworks by female painters were accepted by the jury remain unclear.

With the emergence of avant-garde artists’ groups, that were usually smaller in size and often a product of personal relationships, women became increasingly more involved and performed certain tasks within the organization of exhibitions. They committed themselves as jury members, chairpersons, or to the acquisition of exhibition spaces and guest artists. When comparing smaller avant-garde artist groups to Munich’s prominent artist associations, a greater level of attendance of women artworks becomes evident (Fig. 3). Although large and secessionist exhibitions provided a platform for more women artists, the exhibitions of artists’ groups in modern galleries allowed a significantly higher number of artworks and thus a chance for broad public visibility. Small groups such as the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (N.K.V.M) and the Blauer Reiter were those that had the largest proportion of female participations, 19% and 12% respectively. Their presence in the modern galleries within a small group helped them to gain attention, win public reactions, and eventually sell their works. In addition, very early on there were exhibition associations made up entirely of women artists such as the Verbindung bildender Künstlerinnen Berlin-München, who were part of a supra-regional network and successfully presented in Munich and Berlin galleries.10

Fig. 3: Participations per exhibition association and artworks per participation in Munich, calculation based on Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME), Vienna 2019.

The chronological changes confirm the question of trends towards the establishment of women artists, with the exception of the mass event “International Exhibition” in 1905, at which many female artists – however each with only a few artworks – were admitted (Fig. 4). With the growing number of artists’ groups from around 1909 onwards, the number of female artists and, in particular, the number of their artworks exhibited also increased. The doubling of their number within one year, from 1911 to 1912, coincides with the local appearance of the women’s right movement. Both within secessionist movements and in the avant-garde artists’ groups, female participation tends to rise and reach its peak in 1912/13. In 1915, the approaching First World War again led to a decline in the number of artists of both sexes.

Fig. 4: Number of female artists and exhibited artworks per year, calculation based on Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME), Vienna 2019.

It is undeniable that women artists at the beginning of the 20th century were quantitatively dominated by men. It is also undeniable that the work and exhibition activities of many female artists are still vastly under-researched. The conditions under which they established themselves in Munich were in some respects very different from those of their male colleagues. As a result, women had to create specific training opportunities for themselves, find artists associations which allowed them to increase their public visibility, and fight for their acceptance in a male-dominated institutionalized exhibition scene. The use of digital databases can give a detailed impression of how these processes have affected the presence of women in the art business.

Edited and translated by Christina Bartosch, Marei Döhring, Isabel Fischnaller and Kirsten Pilling.


[1] Donald E. Gordon, Modern art exhibition. 1900-1916: selected catalogue documentation, Munich 1974.

[2] Data collection and analysis took place in the summer semester 2019 until August 15, 2019.

[3] Cornelia Matz, Die Organisationsgeschichte der Künstlerinnen in Deutschland von 1867 bis 1933, D. phil. Diss., Universität Tübingen 2001, p. 46-47.

[4] Zara S. Pfeiffer, Wir haben es gewagt. Um 1900 ist München ein Zentrum der bürgerlichen Frauenbewegung, in: Antonia Voit (Ed.), Ab nach München! Künstlerinnen um 1900 (Exh. Cat. Münchner Stadtmuseum 2014/15), Munich 2014, p. 16-21.

[5] Bettina Best, Die Geschichte der Münchener Secession bis 1938. Eine Chronologie, in: Jochen Meister (Ed.), Münchener Secession. Geschichte und Gegenwart, Munich 2007.

[6] BayHSta – Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv München, M-Inn 73477, Statuten der Genossenschaft der bildenden Künstler Münchens, cited in: Charlotte Mosebach, Geschichte Münchener Künstlergenossenschaft königlich privilegiert 1868. MKG1868, Munich 2014, p. 40-42.

[7] (N.N.), Vermischte Nachrichten, in: Die Kunst für Alle, 6.1890/91, p. 254.

[8] Memorandum des Vereines Bildender Künstler Münchens, first published in: Münchener Neueste Nachrichten, 278, 21.06.1892, (28.05.2019), urn:nbn:de:bvb:255-dtl-0000000021.

[9] Exh. Cat. Kgl. Kunstausstellungsgebäude am Königsplatz München 16.5.-31.10.1911, p. 55-72.

[10] (N.N.), Vermischtes, in: Kunstchronik. Wochenschrift für Kunst und Kunsthandel, 13, 1906, p. 206.