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Name: Abbey Rees-Hales

PhD: History of Art, University of Birmingham

Thesis Title: (S)Ex-Libris: Women Artists and the Trade in Erotic Illustrated Books in Interwar France and Germany.


Thesis Description:

As the German sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld remarked in 1931, “Everybody knows how the war affected the participation of women in industry.”  However, what is less well known is that during the First World War, women also stepped into 'male roles' in clandestine sectors, including the production of mass-produced and high-end pornography and erotica.  

Whilst the complexities and contradictions of the New Woman have been amply discussed by art historians, how this is exemplified by the New Woman artist negotiating the 'male domain' of erotica has been overlooked. Seeking to redress this lacuna, my thesis aims to provide the first sustained study of the academically-trained women artists, who during the interwar period transgressed notions of bourgeois propriety as illustrators of erotic texts.

I will consider women artists working in Berlin and Paris during the interwar period, examining illustrations produced by artists including: Jeanne Mammen, Renée Sintenis, Lene Schneider-Kainer, May den Engelsen and Mariette Lydis, women who whilst successful in their lifetimes have largely been written out of the art historical and modernist canons. 

Countering the age-old association of creativity with male sexuality, a critical, feminist examination of how these women artists reinterpreted canonical erotic texts from Lucian and Sappho to Charles Baudelaire and Pierre Louÿs, will reveal the ways they negotiated their positions as women artists in male-dominated circles, both subverting and enforcing the patriarchal frameworks of erotica.

Supervisors and Institutions:

Dr Camilla Smith, Lecturer in Art History, Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies, University of Birmingham

Professor Lisa Downing, Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality, Department of Modern Languages, University of Birmingham

Assistant Professor Katherine Shingler, Assistant Professor in French and Francophone Studies, School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies, University of Nottingham.



  • Teaching Debates and Methods in the History of Art seminars (History of Art Department) (2019)

Papers given

  • 'A Borrowed Space? Lene Schneider-Kainer and the Weimar Woman Artist as Illustrator of Erotica'. Modern and Contemporary Forum, University of Birmingham, December 2018.
  • ' “With Quite Unrestrained Female Indiscretion”: Charlotte Berend’s Anita Berber: Acht Originallithographieen (1919)', Intersecting Identities Research Stream/ Department of Modern Languages Research Seminar, University of Birmingham, November 2018.
  • ' “With Quite Unrestrained Female Indiscretion”: Charlotte Berend, Anita Berber and the Graphically-Graphic Body' (paper given in absentia), Graphic Modernisms panel, Modernist Studies Association annual conference, Columbus, Ohio, November 2018.
  • 'Charlotte Berend, Anita Berber and the Graphically-Graphic Body', Women in German Studies 30th Annual Conference, Aston University, November 2018. 
  • 'A New Erotic Renaissance Threatens Germany: Women Artists and Bibliophile (homo)erotica in the Early Weimar Republic', Women in Print: Production, Distribution and Consumption, Centre for Printing History, University of Birmingham, September 2018

  • 'Mytilene on the Banks of the Spree: Pierre Louÿs, Jeanne Mammenand a Sapphic Pseudograph', Echoes: A Symposium on Classic-Modern Relations, April 2018, University of Birmingham.
  • 'The Daughters of Bilitis: Pierre Louÿs, Jeanne Mammen and a Pseudo-Sapphic Hoax', Queer Modernism(s) II, University of Oxford, April 2018


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities

  • Co-organiser of Echoes: A Symposium on Classic-Modern Relations, University of Birmingham, April 2018 (
  • Member of Women in German Studies (WIGS)
  • Member of German History Society
  • Committee member, Journal of History and Cultures (JHAC), 2016-2017


  • '"Mit einer ziemlich weitgehenden weiblichen Indiskretion": Charlotte Berends Anita Berber: Acht Originallithographieen (1919)', 
    Hemma Schmutz, Elisabeth Nowak-Thaller (eds.), Wolfgang Gurlitt Zauberprinz: Kunsthändler – Sammler, exhibition catalogue, LENTOS Kunstmuseum Linz, Linz, 2019, 169-176 (forthcoming).
  • Chris Matthews and Abbey Rees-Hales, 'In the Modern Factory', C20 Magazine, 2015, 1, 16-23.

Other Research Interests:

  • Feminist Art History
  • Gender Studies
  • Modernism 
  • The Middlebrow
  • Print culture
  • Book illustration


University email address:

University profile:




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