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Gerty Simon

  • The Berlin photographer Gerty Simon established a studio in Chelsea, London. Her solo exhibition [i]Camera Portraits[/i] from 1935 featured a distinctive portrait of the émigré art dealer Alfred Flechtheim (shown above).
  • Gerty
  • Simon
  • Gertrud Simon

  • 1887
  • Bremen (DE)
  • 1970
  • London (GB)
  • Photographer
  • The Berlin photographer Gerty Simon established a studio in Chelsea, London. Her solo exhibition Camera Portraits from 1935 featured a distinctive portrait of the émigré art dealer Alfred Flechtheim (shown above).

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  • Gerty Simon, Portrait of Alfred Flechtheim, London, c. 1935 (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).
  • Before her emigration to London, Gertrud ‘Gerty’ Simon (born Gertrud Cohn) was already a renowned portrait photographer in the Weimar Republic, with a popular studio in Berlin-Charlottenburg. She photographed famous personalities, including the actress Brigitte Horney, the artist Käthe Kollwitz and the physicist Albert Einstein. Simon emigrated in October 1933, and her son, and later her husband, also managed to escape to London. She established a photo studio in Chelsea and photographed the actors Iain Macnab and Constance Cummings, the painter Sir William Rothenstein and the museum director Sir Kenneth Clark. In 1934, Gerty Simon’s solo exhibition London Personalities opened at the Storran Gallery run by Ala Story, which received good reviews in the British press – the Evening Standard ran the headline “Uncompromising Camera”, highlighting the unconventional and progressive nature of Simon’s photographic eye (Mitchell/March 2020, 13). In 1935, Gerty Simon had another solo exhibition at the Camera Club. Camera Portraits featured 58 portraits and was curated by the gallerist Alfred Flechtheim, who was in exile in London (Warnock 2019, 22). The exhibition also included a portrait of Flechtheim.

    The portrait of the gallerist continues a traditional convention: as early as the 1920s, Flechtheim was portrayed in severe profile by Hugo Erfurth and Frieda Riess. Flechtheim’s striking features, with his distinctive nose and hair combed back severely from his face, were similarly emphasised in Rudolf Belling’s Portrait Alfred Flechtheim (1927). Gerty Simon’s photograph shows the art dealer in the approved side view. The face is brightly lit and stands out against the dark background. The picture is tightly cropped and focused entirely on the head. The dark circles around the eyes and the clouded eyelids give the subject a melancholy expression. Based on the photograph and the time of its creation, around 1935, the London exile history of one of the most renowned gallery owners of the late Wilhelmine era and the Weimar Republic can be unfolded. Flechtheim was a successful gallerist, with galleries in Berlin and Düsseldorf, and was also the publisher of Der Querschnitt magazine. Gerty Simon also published her photographs in this journal (March 2019, 12). Flechtheim exhibited the most important modern artists of his time, including Rudolf Belling, George Grosz, Oskar Kokoschka, Georg Kolbe, Pablo Picasso, Renée Sintenis and many more. When the National Socialists came to power, Alfred Flechtheim and his company, which was already struggling due to the world economic crisis, became the target of racist attacks in which he was targeted as a Jew, a cultural Bolshevist and an outstanding patron of the artistic avant-garde (Frowein 1987, 59). In 1937, the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition in Munich not only defamed many of the artists whom Flechtheim represented, but also attacked the gallery owner himself in an exhibition text (Dascher 2011, 394).

    Flechtheim had been living abroad since 1933 and worked for the Mayor Gallery at 18 Cork Street in London. Later, he was also the official representative of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s Paris gallery. Flechtheim's aim was to introduce French and German modernism to the London art market and to make it more visible: Paintings by Paul Klee opened in January 1934 and an exhibition on George Grosz followed in June the same year (Frowein 1987, 60). Although Flechtheim had a major impact on these and other exhibitions at the Mayor Gallery and provided loans, his name remained largely unmentioned (Dascher 2011, 331). Flechtheim also worked with the Agnew Gallery and was responsible for that gallery’s new focus on French Impressionism (Frowein 1987, 61). Collaborations also took place with the Alex Reid & Lefevre Gallery and The Leicester Galleries. In October 1936, Alfred Flechtheim also organised the Exhibition of 19th Century French Painting at the New Burlington Galleries, which brought together work by Manet, van Gogh and Cézanne.  

    Alfred Flechtheim died in 1937. His body was cremated at Golders Green Crematory. Posthumously, a final text written by him appeared in James Laver’s French Painting and The Nineteenth Century (Laver 1937). The book is dedicated to Flechtheim: “In Memory of ALFRED FLECHTHEIM who died 9th March 1937 ‘Marchand de Tableaux Créateur’.” The book brings together many of the paintings shown at the Exhibition of 19th Century French Painting. The image selection and text editing were carried out by Alfred Flechtheim. In his postscript, Flechtheim describes how he organised the exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries and why he always championed French art. His text formulates a credo that can be read as a reflection of his situation as an exiled art dealer and as a pacifist statement on the political situation: “Art need be none the worse for being national or provincial, but really great art soars above racial frontiers and belongs to the world. [...] Such an art, to borrow J.B. Manson's words, ‘can be understood with few exceptions by the whole world. It affords a common meeting ground, and transcends all those considerations of imperialism and politics which are the cause of international strife and ill will.’” (Flechtheim 1937, 114)

    Gerty Simon thus photographed Flechtheim during the period of his professional arrival in London, which brought him into contact with leading galleries in the city. However, his impetus for the acceptance of continental modernism barely registered with the public. Flechtheim, unlike in Düsseldorf and Berlin, could not conduct his business under his gallery name.
    Gerty Simon’s solo exhibition, organised by Flechtheim, included other portraits of emigrants, including the physicist Ulrich Friedemann, who had emigrated to Great Britain in 1933. A portrait of the actress and singer Lotte Lenya from 1935 was also exhibited in Simon’s Camera Portrait exhibition. Lenya’s career was closely connected to the composer Kurt Weill and the writer Bertold Brecht. She took part in the world premiere of the Singspiel Mahagonny in 1927 and was successful a year later with her performance as the pirate Jenny in The Threepenny Opera. Lenya lived in London with her partner Kurt Weill in 1935 before they emigrated to the U.S. the same year. Simon photographed Lenya in a bust portrait. Her face is strongly illuminated and her body casts a shadow on the wall behind her. The actress’s gaze is pensive. In her right hand she holds a cigarette. Hand and face are partly unsharp, which gives the shot a spontaneous, momentary expression.
    Although Gerty Simon was able to compile an extensive new oeuvre of portraits in a very short time after her emigration and to mount two solo shows in London with them, her work remained limited in time. Whether she continued her photographic career after 1935 is uncertain. She probably gave up her work as a photographer at the latest with the outbreak of the Second World War. Later she turned to painting (Mitchell/March 2020, 39).

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  • Gerty Simon, Portrait of Lotte Lenya, London, c. 1935 (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).
    Gerty Simon’s business card in London (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).
    Invitation to the private view of Gerty Simon’s London Personalities exhibition, London 1934 (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).
  • Dascher, Ottfried. “Es ist was Wahnsinniges mit der Kunst”. Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler, Kunsthändler, Verleger (Quellenstudien zur Kunst, 6). Nimbus, 2011.

    Flechtheim, Alfred. “Postscript.” James Laver. French Painting And The Nineteenth Century. B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1937, pp. 101–114.

    Frowein, Cordula. “Alfred Flechtheim im Exil in England.” Alfred Flechtheim. Sammler. Kunsthändler. Verleger, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, 1987, pp. 59–64.

    March, John. “Gerty Simon’s Berlin Years c. 1919–1933.” Berlin/London. The Lost Photographs of Gerty Simon, edited by Barbara Warnock and John March, exh. cat. The Wiener Holocaust Library, London, 2019, pp. 11–18.

    Mitchell, Carla, and John March. Another Eye. Women Refugee Photographers after 1933, exh. cat. Four Corners, London, 2020.

    Sprung in den Raum. Skulpturen bei Alfred Flechtheim (Quellenstudien zur Kunst, 11), edited by Ottfried Dascher, exh. cat. Georg Kolbe Museum, Berlin, 2017.

    Warnock, Barbara. “Gerty Simon in London 1933–1970.” Berlin/London. The Lost Photographs of Gerty Simon, edited by Barbara Warnock and John March, exh. cat. The Wiener Holocaust Library, London, 2019, pp. 19–25.

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  • My deepest thanks go to Barbara Warnock and Torsten Jugl from The Wiener Holocaust Library for giving me permission to reproduce the works of Gerty Simon.

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  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • GB (1933–1970).

  • 36 Church Street (now Old Church Street), Chelsea, London SW3 (studio).

  • London
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Gerty Simon." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 20-06-2021.
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    The children’s book Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land with staged photographs by the émigré Henry Rox shows anthromorphised fruit and vegetables that think, speak and act like humans.

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    20th Century German Art

    The 20th Century German Art exhibition of 1938 gave visibility to artists who had been defamed at the Munich exhibition Entartete Kunst and were persecuted by the National Socialist regime.

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    Golders Green Crematorium

    Numerous emigrants were cremated in Golders Green Crematorium after their death, including the gallerist Alfred Flechtheim, the psychoanalyst Anna Freud, the architect Ernö Goldfinger and the art historian Rosa Schapire.

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    Ala Story
    GalleristCuratorArt CollectorMuseums Director

    Originally from Vienna, Ala Story worked for galleries such as Redfern and Storran, opened the Stafford Gallery in 1938 and developed it into the British Art Centre.

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