Else Meidner, Selsbtporträt, 1949, Kohlezeichnung

Else Meidner (1901-1987)

More than a famous painter’s wife

Ludwig Meidner became an internationally acclaimed expressionist painter, but only few people know his wife, Else Meidner. She created a large oeuvre of distinctive work that includes many sensitively rendered portraits. She was fascinated by gloomy, tragic themes such as death, power, and loneliness.

Artistic beginnings

Else Meidner grew up the daughter of the well-to-do Berlin physician Dr. Heinrich Meyer and his wife, Margarete, née Fürst. She had two sisters. She was encouraged by Käthe Kollwitz and Max Slevogt to pursue her dream of becoming an artist and studied at the Applied Arts School and the Art Academy in Berlin. She later attended Ludwig Meidner’s drawing class at the Berlin Studienatelier für Malerei und Plastik.

Initial success in Berlin

In the late 1920s, Else Meidner received initial recognition for her work. In 1928, her portrait etching of the writer Alfred Döblin won a prize at the graphic contest held by the artists’ group Die Schaffenden.

Else Meidner (1900-1987), Alfred Döblin, Kaltnadelradierung, Berlin 1927
Else Meidner (1900-1987), Alfred Döblin, etching, Berlin 1927 © Ludwig Meidner-Archive, Jewish Museum Frankfurt

In May 1932, she held a solo exhibition at Juryfreie in Berlin that featured thirty of her works and was well received by critics. Describing her images, renowned art critic Max Osborn wrote, "The grand form is everywhere to be seen, the strange sense of the enigmatic, painful connection between worldly things, the firm hand that never loses its way. We see a path leading upward."

This path was abruptly blocked in 1933. Now Else Meidner was only allowed to exhibit her works to a Jewish audience – for example, at the Jewish Cultural Association. In 1935, Ludwig Meidner accepted a position as a drawing teacher at a Jewish school in Cologne, and Else Meidner followed him there with their son, David.

Joseph Paul Hodin, Aus den Erinnerungen von Else Meidner, Darmstadt, 1979

Here in London I walk about as in a dream and am surprised I’m here. Some plants thrive wherever you transplant them, but I could never put down new roots. My roots are in Berlin.


In August 1939, Else Meidner immigrated to England with her family. She initially worked as a servant for an elderly woman in the south of London, where she also lived. During Ludwig Meidner’s internment as "enemy alien" in 1940–41, she was once again on her own. Later the family lived in precarious financial conditions, and recognition as an artist largely eluded her.

Else Meidner (1900-1987), Mutter und Kind, Kohlezeichnung, London 1945-50
Else Meidner (1900-1987), Mother and Child, charcoal drawing, London 1945-50 © Ludwig Meidner-Archive, Jewish Museum Frankfurt

The couple became increasingly estranged, and when Ludwig Meidner moved back to Germany in 1953, Else Meidner remained in London. She had adopted British citizenship and refused to return to Germany. However, when Ludwig Meidner fell ill in 1963, she made an exception and visited him for several months.

Else Meidner created her last works in the mid-1960s and afterward gave up all artistic activities – not only due to health reasons, but probably also because of discouragement.

Further reading