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Hannah Hoch (1889-1979)
Hannah Hoch (1889-1979)

Die Gymnastiklehrerin

Hannah Hoch (1889-1979)
Die Gymnastiklehrerin
signed with initials and dated 'H.H. 25' (lower left); signed again, dated and titled 'H. Höch 25 DIE GYMNASTIKLEHRERIN' (on the artist's mount)
photomontage with silk and paper collage on paper
Image size: 9 x 5¾ in. (22.9 x 14.7 cm.)
Mount size: 11½ x 8 1/8 in. (29.2 x 20.6 cm.)
Executed in 1925
Acquired from the artist by the family of the present owner, circa 1960s.
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; New York, Museum of Modern Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Photomontages of Hannah Höch, October 1996-September 1997, p. 48, no. 25 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

The constructed images of Hannah Höch are among the most iconic of the Dada movement. Juxtaposing photographs extracted from mass-media periodicals with elements of paper collage and other found objects, Höch forged an innovative path as the only female member of the Berlin Dada group. Eschewing the exhortative and overtly political tendencies of her colleagues George Grosz and John Heartfield, Höch preferred to create images rife with whimsy and ambiguity. "In light of her subjectivity," writes Peter Boswell, "her whimsy, her openness to fantasy, and her dedication to issues of artistic form, it is perhaps more appropriateto link her with those colleagues with whom she herself expressed the greatest affinity-Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp, Max Ernst-than with the Berlin Dadaists who actively marginalized her" (in exh. cat., op. cit., p. 7).

Höch's interest in the technique of photomontage spanned her entire career. She explored this medium for nearly fifty years, her ideas evolving from "mordant social commentary to surrealist fantasy to outright abstraction" (ibid.). The present work, executed in 1925, dates from the period directly following the Berlin Dada movement. In contrast to the works she had created between 1918 and 1922, the post-Dada photomontages are smaller in scale and more centralized in composition. Manifesting the influence of the Russian Constructivists on Höch's work from this period, the photomontages from the mid-1920s have clear borders and often simpler and more singular images. Tiring of overt political commentary and fractured, disjointed imagery, after 1922 Höch no longer produced work for a strictly Dada audience. Rather, she was indulging a more "private passion" (ibid, p. 11).

In its depiction of a pin-up style nude silhouette, Die Gymnastiklehrerin ("gymnastics teacher") is overtly feminine, and reflects Höch's engagement with the womanly pursuits of embroidery and needlework, for which she gained wide acclaim and reaped financial success in the 1920s. Working three days a week for a publishing house in Berlin, Höch published articles on handicrafts and other domestic pursuits. The cross-hatched pattern onto which the photographic collage has been applied in the present work is known as "filet," a sheet onto which designs are darned, and served as the basis of many of her collages. Höch has also applied silk collage in the present work, furthering its tactile and feminine appeal.

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