Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Charlotte Salomon, "Life? Or Theater?"

I went to the city art museum in Bochum last week and saw a wonderful exhibit of Charlotte Salomon's autobiographical artistic voyage, "Leben? oder Theater?

All of her artistic work is now in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, and this is their introduction to her life and work:
Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) grew up in middle-class German-Jewish Berlin. As a girl she led a relatively carefree life, until the Nazi coup in 1933. In spite of this she almost completed her studies at Art Academy. In January 1939 Charlotte fled from Germany and went to stay with her grandparents who were living in the south of France. They had quitted Nazi Germany earlier, in 1933. Following the outbreak of World War II, in 1940, Charlotte's grandmother committed suicide. Only then was Charlotte told that her mother had ended her life in a similar way, in 1926.
Charlotte, then 24 years old, came to terms with her turbulent family past as well as her experiences as a Jew living in Berlin, in a most unusual manner. She felt herself faced with a choice: either to end her life or to undertake 'something really extravagantly crazy'. She went into retirement, as it were, and in a burst of wild creative energy, started to paint. So it was that, outdoors in the sunshine of southern France, she produced a series of almost eight hundred gouaches (watercolours).

Between 1940 and 1942, in eighteen months of concentrated work, she painted her life's story, titling it Life? or Theatre? "And she saw with eyes awakened from a dream all the beauty that surrounded her, saw the sea, felt the sun and knew that for a period she must disappear from the human scene and that she had to make every possible sacrifice in order to create her new world from out of the unfathomable depths." 
In October 1943, at the age of 26, Charlotte Salomon was killed in Auschwitz.
Here are a couple of examples from the collection:

Life or Theater?
Self-portrait, 1940

Kristallnacht, 1938

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