It appears to me to be a barbarian view of art not to consider it to be an obligation, but rather merely a means to greater comfort and greater pleasure. Art, a kind of intellectual whipped cream, is plopped onto the cultural pudding. Art is the coat one adorns and warms oneself with, or it is only a decorative splodge of color on the wall. In reality, one would gain much more if one could decide on a completely different view of art - namely taking an active part instead of only enjoying it. (Grethe Jürgens)
Grethe Jürgens (1899-1981), the daughter of a school teacher, was born in Holzhausen near Osnabrück in northern Germany and brought up in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea. In 1919, she went to the Hannover School for Artisans and Crafts to study for three years. There, she and fellow-students Gerta Overbeck, Erich Wegner, Ernst Thoms and others formed a closely-knit, politically left-wing group. In this circle of like-minded artists, she began to capture her impressions of student life and the petty bourgeois milieu in quickly dashed off sketches. Jürgens was so impoverished that during her studies she lived in what she referred to as a "dog kennel" - before she moved in, her lodging housed purebred dogs.
She once commented on these early years: "We worked, we painted. We were often together. I am not a woman of the world, I did not travel much. We sat in Hannover and did not feel like we were 'innovators', only that we were different than the Expressionists, who belonged to a 'higher art movement'. We were simple, we had almost no money, but we were together and rode our bicycles out into the countryside."
For financial reasons, until the end of the 1920s Jürgens worked as a commercial artist at the Hacketal Wire and Cable Works in Hannover. This was not exactly what a painter dreamed of doing. It was during these years that she produced those paintings that would gain her notoriety: cool, realistic portraits of her fellow artists, stern depictions of the social environment and people from the "backyards of life". Her most well known work is People at the Unemployment Office:
Grethe Jürgens, People at the Unemployment Office, 1929
In 1931, Jürgens, Overbeck, Thoms and Wegner founded the short-lived publication Der Wachsbogen (The Wax Sheet), on which Jürgens served as editor and distributor (mostly by bicycle). It was a forum not only for artists but for musicians, architects and writers to express their ideas concerning the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), in opposition to the prior or current trends of Expressionism, Surrealism and Abstraction.
Grethe Jürgens, Flower Girl, 1931
After 1961, Jürgen's works were included in most German shows featuring Neue Sachlichkeit. She remained in Hannover all her life.