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Jeanne Mammen and Max Delbrück

Max Delbrück (1906 - 1981) started his career as an astronomer, then he became a physicist and nuclear research scientist, and later a biologist. He worked together with Niels Bohr in Copenhagen, and he was the founder of molecular biology. On December 10th, 1969 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses (together with Alfred Day Hershey and Salvador Edward Luria).

He met Jeanne Mammen in 1935 among a group of mutual friends, most of them scientists and enthusiastic musicians. He wrote the following about their first encounter: "My friendship with Jeanne Mammen began in the 1930s - two years before I left Germany. Jeanne was forty years old, and after her intense creative period of the 1920s, she had withdrawn into the bitter life of inner emigration. I was twenty years old, a nobody, ready to emigrate to the USA." During his last visit in Jeanne's studio (the Wohnatelier at Kurfürstendamm 29) he took some of her paintings with him. He was an ardent admirer and collector of her artwork, and in 1938 he organized a small private exhibition of her paintings at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. Until the beginning of the war, he had continued to acquire more of her paintings, and in one of his letters he told her, that she now had become more famous in America than in Germany.

During the war, their contact had been interrupted, but was resumed in 1945/1946, at first by exchanging letters, and later by Max Delbrück's visits with his wife Manny. He supported Jeanne with care packages and by buying her paintings, in the United States for Caltech, and in his function as director for the Max Planck Institute in Cologne, Germany. In this way he also supported the artist financially, and made her struggle for survival during the post-war years more bearable.

Max Delbrück also started a slide documentation of Jeanne Mammen's art work, so that her paintings, as well as her graphic work could be catalogued. This indeed proved to be of invaluable assistance to the "Jeanne-Mammen-Gesellschaft e. V." [Jeanne Mammen Society] (today: "Förderverein Jeanne-Mammen-Stiftung e. V." [Sponsoring Association Jeanne-Mammen-Foundation]), when it assumed its work, in particular the edition of the catalogue raisonné (Wienand Verlag, Köln, 1997).

The inspiring and witty correspondence between these two friends gives an insight into the personalities of Jeanne Mammen and Max Delbrück: the artist and the scientist, who had in common a particular creative curiosity. They shared an appreciation of and admiration for one another's work, also reflected in their quest to gain insights into the miracles and mysteries of life - an explorative meeting ground of the fine arts and the natural sciences. This revealing exchange of letters is kept in the archives of the "Förderverein Jeanne-Mammen-Stiftung e. V." [Sponsoring Association Jeanne-Mammen-Foundation] (before: "Jeanne-Mammen-Gesellschaft e. V." [Jeanne Mammen Society]) in Berlin.

Max Delbrück in 1970 in his office at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA

Max Delbrück in 1970 in his office at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA,
shortly after he had got the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine in 1969.
Courtesy of the Archives, California Institute of Technology.
Copyright: California Institute of Technology

The possibility for the continuation of the tradition which had grown out of the friendship between Max Delbrück, his wife Manny and Jeanne Mammen, has been provided by Professor Detlev Ganten, director of the Max-Delbrück-Centrum in Berlin-Buch. The "Jeanne-Mammen-Gesellschaft e. V." [Jeanne Mammen Society] (today: "Förderverein Jeanne-Mammen-Stiftung e. V." [Sponsoring Association Jeanne-Mammen-Foundation]) is indebted to him for having organized an exhibition of some of the artist's paintings, when in 1999 the "Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine" (MDC) was opened, an institute where six interdisciplinary branches of modern molecular biology collaborate in their efforts to combine basic laboratory and clinical research, with emphasis on genetics. Now seventeen large tempera and oil paintings, as well as five sculptures, representative of Jeanne Mammen's work of art, dating from the years between 1937 and 1973, are exhibited in the "Jeanne Mammen hall" [Jeanne-Mammen-Saal], the two conference rooms named after the artist.


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