The lost sitters of photographer Gerty Simon – can you help?

The Wiener Library is seeking help to identify 80 portraits taken by German-Jewish photographer Gertrud ‘Gerty’ Simon

An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)

The Wiener Library, a London-based museum of the Holocaust and genocide, is seeking help to identify 80 people who feature in a series of 20th-century portraits taken by the pioneering German-Jewish photographer Gertrud ‘Gerty’ Simon (1887–1970).

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Simon’s work was shown often in Berlin in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and her subjects ranged from artists and performers to politicians in Weimar Germany, including Albert Einstein and theatre critic Alfred Kerr. As the threats of Nazism worsened, Simon fled to Britain with her son Bernard in 1933, establishing a studio in Chelsea and later photographing notable Britons including art historian Kenneth Clark, politician Aneurin Bevan and actor Peggy Ashcroft. 

German-Jewish photographer Gerty Simon, a self-portait. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
German-Jewish photographer Gerty Simon, a self-portait. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)

Simon’s portraits offer a window into the lost world of Weimar Berlin and, since the donation of the archive in 2016, a team at The Wiener Library has been searching for the identities of 80 figures that feature in the 300-strong collection. The images have “remarkable social and cultural value”, says the museum, and “it’s highly likely that the unidentified sitters were prominent figures in their respective fields”.

French prime minister Georges Clemenceau (left), US president Woodrow Wilson (centre) and British PM David Lloyd George at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. The treaty's provisions have been blamed for causing the Second World War. (Image by Topfoto)

Since the online search began in October 2018, the #FindingGerty campaign has had success identifying a number of subjects including Alexander Iolas, a Greek-American art collector and dancer, and Elfrieda Thum, a German artist.

The unidentified images, including the five images below, have been uploaded onto Flickr for members of the public to offer their suggestions; many include labels with the detail already known by the library team. Those wishing to help can leave a comment under each image, or get in touch using the details here. Follow the search on social media using #FindingGerty.

An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
An unidentified sitter for photographer Gerty Simon. (© The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Library Collections)
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Berlin/London: The Lost Photographs of Gerty Simon will be exhibited at The Wiener Library from 30 May–15 October 2019, entry is free. Find more information here.