The Paintings of Ottilie Roederstein
Born in 1859 to German parents in Zurich, Ottilie Wilhelmine Roederstein was a painter who gained attention mostly in her homeland of Switzerland, but also in France and Germany. Her interest in painting began with the visit to her family home by Swiss painter Eduard Pfyffer who had been commissioned to do the family’s portraits. Beginning in 1876, Roederstein was allowed by her father, against her mother’s wishes and the prevailing social customs, to study painting under the tutelage of Eduard Pfyffer, so she would remain close to home
Three years later, Roederstein moved to the Berlin residence of her married sister Johanna and found a position in a special women’s class at the Grand-Ducal Saxon Art School under the tutelage of portrait painter Carl Gussow. Her first exhibition of paintings at a Zurich gallery in 1882 was well received. That same year, Roederstein followed her colleagues to Paris where she joined the women’s studio of portrait painters Charles Auguste Émile Durand and Jean-Jacques Henner. In addition to these classes, Roederstein also worked with academic painter Luc-Olivier Merson and painted nudes in special private evening classes.
In order to sustain herself as an artist, Ottilie Roederstein had chosen the genres of portraiture and still life, for which she used a dark-toned color palette. She soon departed from that traditional canon and began to paint religious imagery and nudes. By the very end of the 1890s, Roederstein had embraced the tempera medium which was in vogue among both traditional and avant-garde artists. She experimented with Symbolism and Impressionism in the latter part of her career before returning to her signature style in the 1920s.
Initially dependent on financial support from her family, Roederstein was able by 1887 to support herself with sales and commissions for her work. She returned to Zurich but continued to maintain her Paris studio on the Seine where she would work and exhibit several months of the year. Roederstein moved to Frankfurt, Germany, in 1891 to be with her partner, Elizabeth Winterhalter, a physician and one of the first female surgeons in Germany.
In 1891, Elisabeth Winterhalter had just taken over a practice in Frankfurt am Main’s newly founded hospital, the Vaterländischer Frauenverein. She also set up the first gynecological polyclinic through a branch of the Red Cross organization. Although unable to obtain a German medical license despite her internships and Doctorate, she established a reputation as an obstetrician and gynecologist. In 1895, Winterhalter became the first female surgeon in Germany to perform a surgical procedure involving an incision through the abdominal wall. She also conducted research that led to the discovery of the ganglion cell of the ovary and published a major paper on the subject in 1896.
Soon after her 1891 move to Berlin, Ottilie Roederstein quickly gained a wide circle of clients and, in 1892, began giving women artists painting lessons at her studio in the Städel Art School. She exhibited her paintings in Paris’s Salon and won a Silver Medal at the city’s 1889 Exposition Universelle. Her work was also shown at the Woman’s Building of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois. In 1902, Ottilie Roederstein’s application for Swiss citizenship was granted; however, Frankfurt remained at the center of her life. Five years later, she and Elisabeth settled in Hofheim am Taurus, a western Frankfurt suburb surrounded by forest.
Roederstein was a member of the Frankfurt-Cronberg Artists’ Association, a group which was attempting to establish the Impressionist technique of open air painting in Germany. She was also the only female artist to exhibit at Cologne’s 1912 International Art Exhibition. In 1913, Roederstein became a member of Frankfurt’s Women’s Art Association which campaigned for women artists’ rights to equal training and admission to art academies. During the first World War as exhibition opportunities shrank, she gave up her Paris studio and withdrew into the privacy of her Hofheim estate. Beginning in 1920, Roederstein bequeathed her own collection of important French and Swiss paintings to Kunsthaus Zürich, one of the most important art collections in Switzerland.
In 1929 on the occasion of Ottilie Roederstein’s seventieth birthday, a large anniversary exhibition of her work was held at Frankfurt’s Art Museum and the city declared both Roederstein and Winte halter as honorary citizens. The rise of the National Socialist Party to power in Germany and the persecution of her Jewish friends and colleagues deeply affected Roederstein. She herself, as an artist, became subject to the state and had to contend with the government’s increasing control over the arts. After the war, Roederstein continued her painting and did a number of portraits of women widowed by the war.
Ottilie Roederstein continued to exhibit regularly until 1931. She produced a large body of work, of which more than eighty were self-portraits. She usually staged herself in a self-confident pose with a stern gaze, a posture that signified her emancipation. On the 26th of November in 1937, Ottilie W. Roederstein died of a heart condition in Hofheim am Taunus. The first posthumous exhibitions of Roederstein’s work were presented in 1938 in Frankfurt, Zurich and Bern in recognition of her artistic legacy and tireless work as a mediator between Switzerland and Germany. After a long period of obscurity, a retrospective of seventy works by Roederstein was held at Kunsthaus Zürich in December of 2020.
After her partner’s death, Elisabeth Winterhalter created a joint legacy, the Roederstein-Winterhalter-Stiftung. She died in February of 1952 in Hofheim am Taunus. Winterhalter was buried alongside Roederstein in an honorary grave cared for by the community. For her efforts in opening the medical profession to women, a street in the Niederursel district of Frankfurt is named after her.
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, Ottilie Roederstein in Her Atelier, Date Unknown
Second Insert Image: Ottilie Foederstein, “Self Portrait with Keys”, 1936, 105.3 x 74.6 cm, Städel Museum
Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, ” Ottilie roederstein and Elisabeth Winterhalter, Date Unknown
Fourth Insert Image: Ottilie W. Roederstein, “Self Portrait with Hat”, 1904, Oil on Canvas, 55.3 x 46.1 cm, Stäadel Museum
Bottom Insert Image: Photogapher Unknown, Ottilie Roederstein and Elisabeth Winterhalter, Date Unknown, Studio Portrait Print