a lili by any other name

Danish painter Einar Wegener* (1882 – 1931) was a successful artist.

image found here

His life story is told in a book entitled Man into Woman, published in 1933. Einar was a perfectly normal boy, both physically and mentally. At the age of twenty he married; his wife Gerda was a painter too, and their marriage was a happy one. One day, an actress whose portrait was being painted by his wife was unable to come for her sitting. Einar’s wife persuaded him to wear stockings and heels and pose for the drapery and legs.

Gerda found here

Over time, Gerda became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In approximately 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gerda’s depictions of petite femmes fatales was in fact Einar.

example of Gerda’s artwork found here

In 1930 Einar went to Germany for surgery, which was only in an experimental state at the time. A series of five operations were carried out over a period of two years. The first surgery, removal of the testicles, was made under the supervision of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin.

At the time of Einar’s surgery the case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. The King of Denmark invalidated the Wegeners’ marriage in October 1930, and Einar managed to get his sex and name legally changed, receiving a passport as Lili Elbe.

Lili by Gerda found here

The rest of Lili’s surgeries were carried out in the Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic. The second operation was to remove the penis, and transplant ovaries, which were taken from a 26-year-old woman. These were soon removed in a third then fourth operation, due to rejection and other serious complications. The fifth operation was to transplant a uterus and was intended to allow Lili, then nearing the age of 50, to become a mother. She soon after died of transplant rejections.

Gerda Wegener went on to marry an Italian military officer, aviator, and diplomat, Major Fernando Porta, and move to Morocco, where she would learn of the death of Elbe, whom she described to a friend as “my poor little Lily.” (By contrast, she described her second husband as “a magnificent, splendid and peerless hunk of man”.) After living for several years in Marrakech and Casablanca, the Portas divorced, and Gerda returned to Denmark, where she died in 1940.

image found here

Gerda is still recognised today as one of the leading art deco artists of the early twentieth century. Her book and magazine illustrations included both high fashion and lesbian and straight erotica. Lili was one of Gerda’s favourite models, wearing women’s clothes or nude. As a fashion designer in Paris, Gerda was influential in setting fashion trends. It is amusing to consider that the 1920s small breasted feminine ideal may have been influenced by Lili’s figure.

Gerda’s artwork found here

* As well as at wikipedia, information regarding Lili Elbe and Gerda was found here