Ilse Fehling was born on 25 April 1896 in the Langfuhr district of Danzig (now the Wrzeszcz district in Gdansk). She began her training as a costume designer at the Reimann School in Berlin in 1919 and attended courses there on costume studies, fashion and nude drawing, sculpture and art history. She also studied sculpture at the College of Applied Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule) in Berlin the same year. Following her studies in the capital, she enrolled at the State Bauhaus in Weimar in 1920, where she attended the sculpture course given by Oskar Schlemmer, the theatre class by Lothar Schreyer, and Paul Klee’s painting class, in addition to the preliminary course with George Muche and harmonization studies taught by Gertrud Grunow.
Her major work at the Bauhaus was carried out in Schlemmer’s theatre workshop, where Fehling developed a rotating round stage for stick puppets, which she patented in 1922. In 1923, she left the Bauhaus and married Henry S. Witting the same year. She then worked as a freelance sculptor in her own studio in Berlin, and also as a stage and costume designer at the same time. In 1924, she was commissioned to equip the Schauspieltheater in Berlin. In 1927, she had her first one-person exhibition in the Fritz Gurlitt Gallery in Berlin. Freelance artistic work and professional costume design became established elements in Ilse Fehling’s career. Her daughter Gaby was born in 1928; she was divorced the following year.
In 1932, the sculptress received the Rome Prize of the Prussian Academy of Arts, with a grant enabling her to travel to Rome for a study visit. Following her return from Rome, the same academy rejected Fehling’s artistic work as ‘degenerate’. Under political pressure from the Nazis – who banned her from exhibiting her work – Fehling minimized her sculptural work and concentrated mainly on costume and stage productions for the film industry and theatre. In 1940, she became head designer for Tobis-Europa, for which she developed, extended and optimized the costume stocks. In her own department for reuse of artistic costumes, she implemented an approach involving ‘reprocessing’ of previously used costumes held in stock.
During the war, Ilse Fehling lost the majority of her sculptures due to bombing and also the seizure of her apartment in 1943. Starting in 1946, the former Bauhaus student lived in Rottach, and from 1952 onward in Munich, where in addition to press illustrations she also started to produce sculptures and stage designs in her own studio again. During visits to Geneva, where her daughter was attending boarding-school, she also worked there (the curricula vitae published in the catalogues describe her as having lived and worked in Geneva, but according to Gaby Fehling this was not the case).
The last exhibition of Fehling’s artistic work was held in the Gurlitt Gallery in Munich in 1963 (?). In 1965, she also carried out a final design project – the planning and interior design of a cinema in Cologne, ‘Die Lupe’. Ilse Fehling died in Munich on 25 February 1982. [AG 2015]
· Information from Ilse Fehling’s daughter Gaby Fehling.
· Ulrike Müller (2009): Ilse Fehling, in: Müller, Ulrike (Hg.): Bauhaus-Frauen. Meisterinnen in Kunst, Handwerk und Design, München, S. 86–91.
· Galerie Bernd Dürr (1990): ilse fehling. bauhaus bühne akt skulptur 1922–1967, München.
· Anke Vetter (2004): Zwischen Experiment und Konvention: Ilse Fehling. Arbeiten für die Bühne von 1922 bis 1944, Magisterarbeit, Berlin.
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