This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002
Tina Wentcher (1887-1974), sculptor, was born on 17 December 1887 in Constantinople (Istanbul), daughter of Jewish parents David Leon Haim, a Serbian-born merchant, and his wife Rebecca, née Mondolfo, who was born in Italy. The family moved to Vienna then Berlin. Tina later claimed to have lived in Berlin from 1904 but other sources suggest that she spent her childhood and adolescence there. She entered a private art school where her teachers, including Levin Funke, encouraged her to set up her own studio. A limestone bust she made of one of her sisters was accepted by the Berlin Sezession. This remarkable achievement resulted in a commission to carve authorized copies of sculptures in the city's Egyptian Museum.
In 1913-14 Haim studied in Paris, her work earning praise from Rodin. On 8 August 1914 in Berlin she married Julius Wentscher, a painter then serving in the artillery. Exhibiting as Tina Haim-Wentscher and joining the Sezession, she became a member of the Wilhelmine and Weimar avant-garde. Numerous galleries and museums in Berlin acquired examples of her work, including a head of the artist and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz (Nationalgalerie). The Wentschers made artistic tours of Greece and Egypt in the 1920s.
From 1931 the couple travelled in the Far East. Social and artistic success, followed by warnings from Kollwitz and Julius's Jewish mother about the worsening position of Jews in Germany, convinced the Wentschers to postpone their return to Berlin. They held exhibitions, collected curios and accepted commissions in the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) (1931-32 and 1933-34), China (1932-33), Siam (Thailand) (1935-36), Singapore (1936-37) and Malaya (Malaysia) (1936-40). Their works were bought for public and private collections but many did not survive World War II. Tina and Julius collaborated in executing highly praised, life-size dioramas representing Malayan industries for the British Empire Exhibition, Glasgow, 1938.
After being sent to Australia as enemy aliens and interned (1940-42) at Tatura, Victoria, the Wentschers settled in Melbourne and Anglicized their name to Wentcher. Tina adapted quickly. In the 1940s and 1950s she sent sculptures to the major art societies, exhibited regularly and won two prizes. Among her early Australian works was a bust of Hephzibah Menuhin (held by Haileybury College, East Brighton). Her participation in charitable work for the Royal Children's Hospital led to a close friendship with Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.
Despite her eminence among early modernist sculptors, Wentcher never developed as an artist beyond what she had achieved in her Asian work, which was radical to Australian eyes. The distinct personality and presence of these pieces forged her reputation, as did her connexion with famous people such as Käthe Kollwitz. While praised for their delicacy and subtlety, Wentcher's creations reflect the monumental sharpness and clarity of line and expression—derived from ancient Egyptian and Greek sculpture—that fascinated early twentieth-century dissident German artists. Her commissions in Australia were generally small-scale plaques and busts. Unlike male modernist sculptors, she did not receive public validation through government teaching positions, though she found many advocates among her peers.
Childless and predeceased by her husband, Wentcher died on 21 April 1974 at St Kilda and was cremated. The Association of Sculptors of Victoria (of which she had been a member) named a prize in her memory. Her work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and other major collections; the McClelland Gallery, Langwarrin, Melbourne, holds a number of key pieces.
Juliet Peers, 'Wentcher, Tina (1887–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wentcher-tina-11998/text21515, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 February 2017.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002