A Painting with a Secret Message: Lovis Corinth's Portrait of Charlotte Berend

From Our Holdings

Lovis Corinth (1858–1925) painted this portrait of a young woman during a beach vacation together on the Baltic coast. The portrait subject, Charlotte Berend (1880–1967), came from a Jewish merchant family and took lessons with the well-known painter. She became one of his favorite pupils and the couple were engaged later in 1902, the same year that this picture was painted.

Concealed Love Note

Corinth was already exploring the limits of convention through the subject’s casual stance, with her head back and shoulders uncovered, suggestive of the sensual, erotic portraits he went on to paint of Charlotte Berend in the years that followed. Hidden in the picture is a dedication from the artist to his lover. Barely visible on the back of the chair "m(ein) l(iebes) Petermannchen" (my dear Petermannchen) is written. She herself traced this nickname back to an inside joke. Petermännchen is a household imp in German folklore. But Corinth was probably aware of another meaning: it is also a name for the weever, a fish that can suddenly reveal its poisonous spines and inflict serious injuries.

The Stereotype of the "Beautiful Jewess"

Lovis Corinth had many Jewish commissioners, as numerous portraits prove. This one of his future wife is evidence of the dialog between two artists and at the same time evocative of the stereotype of the "beautiful Jewess." It tells of the tension surrounding Jewish identities both within and apart from religious and bourgeois life.

Out of Her Husband's Shadow

Once married, Charlotte Berend increasingly subordinated her own artistic work to that of her husband, although she remained an exhibiting member of the Secession group of artists. After her husband's death in 1925, she organized his estate and arranged exhibitions of his work. But Charlotte Berend-Corinth also became active as an artist in her own right and established a painting school in Berlin. In 1939, she emigrated to the United States, where she wrote memoirs and exhibited her own work. The artist died in New York in 1967 – shortly before the opening of her exhibition at the National Gallery in Berlin.

Painting by Lovis Corinth: Portrait of Charlotte Berend

Lovis Corinth, Petermannchen/Portrait of Charlotte Berend; Jewish Museum Berlin, acquired with the support of the Friends and Supporters of the Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Title Petermannchen / Portrait of Charlotte Berend
Artist Lovis Corinth
Collection Fine Arts
Location and year of origin Seebad Horst i. Pommern a. d. Ostsee (today Nichorze, Polen), 1902
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 119 x 95 cm

With the support of

Logo: Society of the Friends of the Jewish Museum Berlin e.V.
Selected Objects (12) Fine Arts Collection Show all

Fine Arts Collection

Glance through our art holdings featuring modernist works by Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth, and commercial graphic art by Louis Oppenheim. The motifs span from biblical and Jewish themes to intimate portraits and Felix Nussbaum’s haunting response to his experience of persecution.

Moses Looks upon the Promised Land by Lesser Ury

For artist Lesser Ury, the painting marked the end of a lifelong preoccupation with the figure of Moses. Unfortunately, only a pastel sketch for the painting survives.

Petermannchen by Lovis Corinth

Lovis Corinth painted this portrait of his student and wife-to-be during a beach vacation on the Baltic coast. It contains a secret romantic message.

Sabbath by Jankel Adler

Jankel Adler's painting Sabbath shows a parlor scene on the weekly day of rest. But the artist has not depicted the festive, pleasurable moment of welcoming the Shabbat.

Girl Walking by Elisabeth Wolff

The sculpture by Elisabeth Wolff was a trophy at the first sporting festival held by the Reich Committee for Jewish Youth Associations, in 1934. The artwork has only been entrusted to our collection for safekeeping.

Self-Portrait with Straw Hat by Max Liebermann

In this late self-portrait, the artist presents himself as bourgeois in a dark suit and a Panama hat. Two years after his eightieth birthday, he painted himself here with a touch of resignation and melancholy.

S. Adam Advertising Poster by Louis Oppenheim

With this poster by the well-known graphic artist Louis Oppenheim, the S. Adam clothing store advertised its products to male and female sports enthusiasts in 1908.

Passage through the Red Sea by Jakob Steinhardt

This woodcut by Jakob Steinhardt illustrates a 1920s Haggadah. The people barely escaped with their lives—as is revealed in the expression on Moses’ face.

Albertine Mendelssohn-Bartholdy as a Bride by August Theodor Kaselowsky

In this painting, Albertine Heine appears to be a Christian Madonna. She holds the ring near her heart, wearing a white dress with her gaze modestly lowered.

Biblical map of the Holy Land

This "New and Original Biblical Map of the Holy Land" from 1893 was probably never intended to be used by pilgrims or travelers on the ground.

Loneliness by Felix Nussbaum

Nussbaum is nearly unique among artists for his striking examination of his plight as one of the persecuted. He painted it in Brussels, where he was in hiding, in 1942.

The Plesch Family Portrait by Max Slevogt

Max Slevogt created this painting of his friend's family in 1928. It captures the intimacy of family life while fulfilling a group portrait's representative function.

Composition by Otto Freundlich

Otto Freundlich painted this abstract composition in 1938 – one year after another artwork of his had been branded "degenerate art" in Nazi Germany.