Lenke Rothman was an artist and an author who was very productive. Some of her fame is due to her artwork in commemoration of the holocaust.
Lenke Rothman was born on 28 March 1929 in the Hungarian town of Kiskunfélegyháza. Her father, Jenö, was an umbrella-maker. Her mother, Sarolta, was a ladies’ hairdresser. Lenke Rothman was the eldest of eight children. In 1944 she, her mother, and her siblings were all sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Lenke Rothman and her 13-year old brother were pushed to the side whilst their mother and remaining siblings were taken straight into the gas chamber. Her father had already been recruited into a ‘labour battalion’, which meant that he was sent to test bridges and mined areas before regular soldiers were sent to cross them. After some time Lenke Rothman was taken to work in a factory outside of Berlin, and then in 1945 she was sent on to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she fell ill with tuberculosis.
After the war ended Lenke Rothman was brought to Sweden in 1945 and she spent six years receiving treatment at hospitals and sanatoria. Her brother Alexander survived his time in the Buchenwald concentration camp and, following his release, he also came to Sweden, arriving in 1947. It was during her lengthy convalescence that Lenke Rothman began to draw and paint. In 1951 she was the youngest participant in the Konstnärshuset exhibition entitled Utländska konstnärer i Sverige. That same year she enrolled as a special student at Konstfackskolan (the college of arts, crafts and design) in Stockholm. There she came to know the authors Nelly Sachs and Sivar Arnér.
Lenke Rothman became a Swedish citizen in 1954 and married Herman Abrahamsson. Her work was included in the Unga tecknare exhibition held at the National museum. Three years later she travelled to Ravenna to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti and she displayed her work as part of the Unga konstnärer exhibition in Rome. Following her return from Italy to Sweden she divorced her husband in 1958. The next year she married Sivar Arnér.
Lenke Rothman held her first solo exhibition in 1960 at Sturegalleriet in Stockholm. That year she also travelled to the Netherlands and Denmark, where she began to draw and paint seaweed and grass. She actively sought out patterns and faces in the randomly shaped vegetation. She frequently displayed her works in Sweden in the early 1960s. She visited her father’s grave in Austria in 1964 and then travelled to Yugoslavia where she drew patterns and ‘faces’ that she saw on the beach.
Her son Elias was born in 1966, an event which Lenke Rothman described thus: “the miracle happened, his presence came to remind me of life, of everything I had forgotten”. She continued to exhibit her work in Stockholm. In 1969 she and the family travelled to Italy where their accommodation overlooked a tennis-court and this led her to base her drawings and paintings on a tennis-court design.
During the mid-1970s Lenke Rothman held an exhibition at Anders Tornberg’s gallery in Lund. She was then elected into Konstakademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts), where Carlo Derkert – the son of Siri Derkert – chose a selection for display. She continued to exhibit at various places including Galerie Aronowitsch, national exhibitions, and at NUNSKU in Stockholm, as well as elsewhere throughout Sweden. An interview on TV was followed up with a programme which traced the emergence of her work called Ett skrin fullt med saker. Two years later a portrait of Lenke Rothman the artist was aired on TV. That same year she was responsible for the stage design on the main stage of the Dramaten theatre and her book entitled Quality of Life was published.
In 1981 Lenke Rothman received a stipend to fund a year’s visit to New York at the MoMa PS1 and she also held an exhibition there which was written up in the New York Times newspaper. Sveriges Television continued to take an interest in Lenke Rothman, recording a conversation between her and Andy Warhol. On her return to Sweden she participated in the Geologi i konsten exhibition at Riksmuseet and she also took part in an art project on behalf of Svenska Dagbladet. Her second book, entitled OK OK OK NEW YORK, was released by the Kalejdoskop publishing house.
Lenke Rothman’s period in New York engendered further invitations to visit and a series of exhibitions in the USA throughout the 1980s. She wrote an article about meeting the photographer André Kertész, which was published in Artes in 1986. Two years later she attended a conference entitled Remembering for the future, held in Oxford and London. In 1989 her exhibition called Yttringar av liv opened at Malmö Konsthall and then travelled on to Göteborgs Konsthall. Her third book, Regn, was published in 1990 and won the Albert Bonniers Förlag (publishers) prize for book of the year.
In the early 1990s Lenke Rothman travelled to Japan in order to study how paper was made following traditional methods and she later reflected her experience in her artwork. She visited Poland in 1995 in order to create a commemorative piece of art related to Auschwitz, in collaboration with Statens konstråd (national art council). She also published her fourth book entitled Lenke Rothman, with text written both by Torsten Ekbom and herself. Her husband Sivar Arnér died in 1997.
In 1998 the memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, Att minnas den goda gärningen was publicly inaugurated at the Swedish parliament. There Lenke Rothman met the ambassador Jan Lundvik and they remained a couple for the rest of their lives. In 2000 she was appointed temporary professor at the Göteborgs Högskola för Design och Konsthantverk (HDK) (school of design and crafts), and the following year she published her fifth book, Stygn. Her second artwork commemorating Auschwitz, called Spår – et minnesmärke, was inaugurated at Göteborgs konstmuseum. In 2003 she exhibited at the Moderna museet as part of a series called Udda veckor. Two years later she spent two months staying at the Carl Larsson studio in Grez-sur-Loing in France. She then participated in the Konstfeminism exhibition held at Dunkers Kulturhus, Liljevalchs konsthall, Hälsinglands museum and Göteborgs konstmuseum.
In the autumn of 2008 the comprehensive retrospective exhibition called Gåvor opened at Dunkers Kulturhus in Helsingborg. A few months later, on 27 November, Lenke Rothman died following a period of illness suffering from acute myeloid leukaemia.
Lenke Rothman was an artist on a quest, constantly sketching, painting, and producing sculptures in various materials and participating in a large number of exhibitions. She produced public artworks, she published books, she did stage design, she was an illustrator and also produced book covers, she worked with TV, she taught and she was awarded a series of awards for her artistic output.
Lenke Rothman’s work can be seen at Moderna museet, the National museum, Borås Konstmuseum, Göteborgs konstmuseum, Helsingborgs museum, amongst others, in addition to private collections both within Sweden and abroad.