Mammen once said, "I have always wanted to be just a pair of eyes, walking through the world unseen, only to be able to see others. Unfortunately one was seen ...."
Like her contemporaries in Weimar era Berlin — Otto Dix and George Grosz — Mammen was an observer and critic of the world around her, with her artwork often street life and the outer edges of bourgeois society of the '30s.
Born in Berlin in 1890 but raised and schooled in Paris, French art and culture were most familiar to her. At the start of World War I in 1914, she was forced with her family to flee France rather than risk interment as a hostile entity.
Her family's property was confiscated, and so upon arriving in Berlin, she had to take any work she could to survive. It was this social and economic upheaval that put her in touch with a wide variety of people in varying classes and these experiences found expression in her artwork.
Her commercial career began to thrive in the '20s as she designed film posters and magazine covers. In 1930 she had a major exhibition of her work. Following that benchmark in her career, she illustrated Pierre Louys's Les Chansons de Bilitis [The Songs of Bilitis] (1894), variations on the theme of lesbian love, and she created a series of eight lithographs in two colours.
In 1933, however, after the National Socialists had seized power, Jeanne Mammen's portrayals, those of women in particular, were cause for concern. After her participation in the spring exhibition of the "Verein der Künstlerinnen zu Berlin" [Association of Female Artists in Berlin] the first slanderous attacks appeared in the Nazi press, denouncing her manner of portrayal and the depicted motifs and subjects as being Jewish. The lithographs for Les Chansons de Bilitis were banned from publication.
She refused to work with publications that had previously hired her as they were censoring artwork to satisfy the cultural politics of the Third Reich. She preferred to try to earn money by pulling a hand cart through the streets of her neighborhood, trying to sell second-hand books, journals, and graphic works.
At this point her style turned toward cubism as she was much influenced by Picasso. She continued to produce work in seclusion even after her building had been hit by a bomb and much of her artwork and personal belongings were destroyed.
After World War II, she began to share her art publicly again and worked designing theater sets and posters. Mammen had established a habit of not always signing her paintings, and she never dated them. In her opinion this information was irrelevant for the understanding and appreciation of a work of art, which first and foremost had to be experienced with all senses. Therefore it is notable that she did sign and date her last painting Verheißung eines Winters [Promise of Winter], October 6th, 1975. In a rare interview with Hans Kinkel at the occasion of her 85th birthday she said, "Now I have an unhealthy preference for white, after I feel better again, I will paint all pictures in white. In a hundred-thousand years they will all have turned golden."