Painting For Her Life
Charlotte Salomon’s artistic feat under the Third Reich
When German artist Charlotte Salomon (1917–1943) handed her gouaches series Life? or Theater? over to a friend, she beseeched him to “Keep it safe. It is my whole life.” A few months later, Charlotte and her husband were picked up by a Gestapo truck, deported to Drancy, and then on to Auschwitz. Charlotte and the couple’s unborn child were gassed upon arrival. She was 26 years old.
The work Salomon left behind survives and is, in a very real sense, her pièce de résistance. A cycle of 1,325 autobiographical gouaches, it combines personal and political narrative into one shattering document of National Socialism as much as a pioneering personal narrative. Divided into three sections, the gouaches detail Salomon’s family; growing up in Berlin; studying art under the Third Reich; her love affair with singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn; the rise of the Nazis; the persecution of Jews; and her exile to France in 1939. Throughout, the artist deploys playful pseudonyms and fantastical elements alongside emotional candor, remarkable observation, and a meticulous visual memory. Her film strip-like sequences are interspersed not only with words but also musical suggestions from Schubert and Mahler melodies to Nazi marching songs.
Trauma haunts each page, whether in the Swastika flags flapping in the wind or the agonizing history of suicide in Salomon’s family. But there is an unmissable defiance, too. Without category or comparison, the gouaches are a triumph of personal truth and individual expression. While there traces of Modigliani Salomon’s figures and their almond eyes and elegant figures, whispers of Chagall in the way flowers and music float into a desperate reality, each page is above all uniquely Charlotte Salomon. Published here with a selection of the most important pages, Life? Or Theatre? is an unrivaled opus magnus from a great and ambitious artist, dark with her early death, luminous with her precision, her lyricism, and her courage.
Judith C. E. Belinfante studied modern history at the University of Amsterdam. From 1969 until 1998 she was involved in the collecting for and building of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, working as Director from 1976. From 1998 to 2002 she was a member of Parliament and from 2003 to 2008 Chief Curator of the Special Collections of the University Library of the University of Amsterdam. She is member and Chair of the Charlotte Salomon Foundation.
Evelyn Benesch is deputy director of the Bank Austria Kunstforum in Vienna. In her long career as an exhibition curator, she has focused on the many artists of classic modernism – from Paul Cézanne to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, from the Futurists to the painters of Die Brücke, and from Pierre Bonnard to Balthus.
|Author||C. E. Judith Belinfante, Evelyn Benesch|
|Dimensions||cm 17,2 x 24,0|
|Tutta la vita di Charlotte Salomon||Arte||01-03-2018|