SHE ILLUSTRATED FOR SUCH MAGAZINES AS VOGUE, LA VIE PARISIENNE AND FANTASIO, in an era that produced some of the lushest, most opulent artworks in history. But beyond the powdery shades, the graceful lines and floral flourishes, Gerda Wegener's works, like her own life, are anything but demure.
Born in 1886, the then Gerda Gottlieb married fellow Danish artist Einar Wegener in 1904, the pair moving to Paris where Gerda received much success as a painter and illustrator. The couple's lives took a turn when Einar one day put on a pair of stockings and heels, to sit in for Gerda's absentee model. Feeling vibrant in women's attire, Einar continued to pose for Gerda's illustrations, appearing in many of her works as a fashionably-dressed woman with almond eyes. He carried on cross-dressing outside of modelling for Gerda, disappearing into the streets of Paris as an anonymous femme.
In 1930, Einar began undergoing sex reassignment surgery, which comprised five operations in a span of two years. Surgery of this sort was still experimental at the time, and Einar's is noted as one of the first sex reassignment surgeries in history to be conducted. The procedure led to widespread public commotion, and the King of Denmark's invalidation of Einar's marriage to Gerda. With their marriage dissolved, Einar Wegener legally changed his name to Lili Elbe, and Gerda remarried, only to divorce five years later.
Both Gerda and Lili died within the decade, leaving behind a sensational legacy and a body of work comprising both the fashionable and the erotic. I've provided a subtly suggestive selection above but a Google search for Gerda Wegener's illustrations reveal females in scenes that recall the Kama Sutra, and whose pretty pastels rival Fifty Shades of Grey.
A film is currently in the works, adapting David Ebershoff's fictitional account of Lili Elbe's life; one that is impossible to recount without prominently depicting his wife Gerda. With Tom Hooper at the helm and Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, I have only excitement for who would be cast as the other Danish girl.
Illustrations by Gerda Wegener, available on hprints.com