The hands of Renée Sintenis


Tall, charismatic and strikingly beautiful, German sculptor Renée Sintenis (1888-1965) was one of the most magnetic figures of Weimar Berlin. Unlike many of her friends she stayed in the city during the Nazi period, only to have much of her work go up in flames during an air raid towards the end of the Second World War.

Golden BearWhile scarcely a household name, Sintenis features in collections held by an impressive roster of notables, including (deep breath) Laurence Olivier, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean-Luc Godard, Roman Polanski, Shirley MacLaine, Brian de Palma, Halle Berry, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Simone Signoret, Lily Tomlin, Isabelle Adjani, Burt Lancaster, Sidney Poitier, Charlize Theron and Leonardo DiCaprio. That’s because all of these people have been recipients of the Sintenis-designed bear statuette given out at the annual International Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) which begins again next week. It coincides with an exhibition of the artist’s work at Berlin’s Georg Kolbe Museum until late March.

In 1930 Berlin-based Scherl’s magazine ran a “psychochirological” feature by Ellen Kissling-Valentin which examined the hands of Albert Einstein, Conrad Veidt, wildlife photographer Bengt Berg – and Renée Sintenis. Here’s what the artist’s extremities apparently revealed:

She is one of our most capable, productive and unique sculptors. She comes from an old Huguenot family and has always been interested in animals. Her father’s house and garden are in the country, where she lived, naturally, amid the animal kingdom. From childhood on she was “solitary” in nature and so she sought companionship in animals all the more. Her studies are largely preoccupied with young animals, interested as she is in their development, structure and suppleness. While she also creates portraits, or studies, primarily from the sporting arena – runners, jumpers, riders – she always returns to animal life.

“My models are a perception, not an idea,” says this thoroughbred artist in whom everything – face, figure, hands – speaks of a strong intellect and character. And there’s a distinctive character in all her works as well. You won’t find anything “in the style of…”. Renée Sintenis is her own person. That’s why she also works “by heart”. She rarely has the living model before her – she creates according to the inner vision. She also works without a framework, something very rare among sculptors.

She told me the same thing as Bengt Berg: “My hands aren’t beautiful. They’re real workers’ hands –” And how beautiful her hands are! What life, energy, power, temperament and artistry they express! They’re free from any signs of vanity. They’re the embodiment of the “noble” worker’s hand.

Sintenis poster


  1. Any mention of Conrad Veidt’s hands sends me into a wittering fangirl frenzy, as he (and okay, Tom Hiddleston) reign supreme over the ‘hand porn’ tag in my Tumblr. I Googled and found said article but haven’t figured out how to embiggen the photos yet–still, thanks for the heads-up! And of course for educating me about Ms. Sintenis and her work as well.

  2. You are an angel for translating thing! There is (as usual with these “solitary” European creative types) such little information about her available in English.

    This reminds me that many moons ago I drafted several Renée-specific posts. I just need an excuse to post them all in one go, since that’s the only way 98.8% of people will get the hang of who she was… I was thinking of a Renée Sintenis Face Appreciation Day, but now I might have to add “hands” to that ridiculous theme (it sounds like the kind of event where you get a free scoop of ice cream at the door- or in this case, a free scoop of clay).

    • Well the exhibition is based on the fairly flimsy excuse of her 125th birthday. And that was last March! There’s a teeny bit of footage in this report which spins off the Berlinale prize. The same site which has the Scherl’s article has lots on Sintenis in issues of Der Querschnitt. I haven’t really explored them yet but I’m sure there are some visual and textual treats.

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