fbpx
Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Charlotte Salomon: Theater of Life and Death

Charlotte Salomon, Autoportrait, 1940, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Smithsonian Magazine.

Women Artists

Charlotte Salomon: Theater of Life and Death

This is not a story with a happy ending. Or a happy beginning for that matter. It’s a story of suicides, sexual abuse, a mystery to solve and art as means to deal with trauma. Read about the sad story played in the theater of life and death of the talented Charlotte Salomon. Ready?

My name is Charlotte

Charlotte Salomon: Charlotte Salomon, Autoportrait
Charlotte Salomon, Autoportrait, 1940, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Smithsonian Magazine.

Charlotte was born in 1917 to a well-off Jewish family in Berlin. Her childhood was happy, she had all she needed. But one day her mum didn’t smile back – she fell ill. Was she suffering from depression? Probably. The thing we do know is that one day Charlotte’s mum jumped out of a window. And little Charlotte saw her body on the street.

My mother killed herself

Charlotte Salomon: Charlotte Salomon, Charlotte is waiting for her mother's angel, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Charlotte Salomon, Charlotte is waiting for her mother’s angel, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Jewish Women’s Archive.

Her mother was not the first woman in the family to commit suicide. Previously, Charlotte’s grandmother’s sister drowned herself in a pond. Then, Charlotte’s grandmother herself followed: she hanged herself. Charlotte remained the last one. “Why do women kill themselves?”, she asked in her unique book-play-series of gouaches.

Should I follow?

Charlotte Salomon: Charlotte Salomon, Charlotte dreaming about love, Jewish Historical Museum. Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Charlotte Salomon, Charlotte dreaming about love, Jewish Historical Museum. Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Jewish Women’s Archive.

Charlotte wanted to understand what was happening to the women in her family. Was it a mental disorder? She didn’t want to follow in their footsteps in any way. She began to compile a complex artwork, a sort of a play or a fairy-tale, in which fictional characters (based on real-life people) experienced events resembling the ones from her own life. She called it Life? Or Theater? I believe that using her art, Charlotte tried to come to terms with all the trauma she experienced, as well as using it as a tool to solve the mystery of her family.

A murderer?

Charlotte Salomon: Charlotte Salomon, Portrait of her dying grandfather, 1943, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Charlotte Salomon, Portrait of her dying grandfather, 1943, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Jewish Cultural Quarter.

And one day she did. As WW2 began, Charlotte’s family had to hide. However, one day she and her grandfather were interred for several weeks in the Vichy-run concentration camp of Gurs, in southwestern France. When they were released, they moved in together in Nice. In her notes she wrote about her grandfather’s requests to share “a bed with me,” and his reasoning: “I’m in favor of what’s natural.” Charlotte finally got the answer: her grandfather was the source of the whole misery. She decided to stop it: one day she served him an omelet containing poison. Charlotte killed him.

A victim?

Charlotte Salomon: Charlotte Salomon, Kristallnacht, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Jewish Cultural Quarter.
Charlotte Salomon, Kristallnacht, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Jewish Cultural Quarter.

When she decided to marry a man whom she didn’t love, she made one mistake: the marriage documents became the evidence of her existence as a Jew. One day the Gestapo knocked on her door and took her away, straight to Auschwitz. Since she was pregnant, she did not have any chance of survival. She was gassed in a gas chamber at the age of 26, in 1943. Yet, her work has survived.

The Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) with a special exhibition dedicated to her artistic legacy: the artwork Life? Or Theatre? (on display until 25 March 2018).


Feeling grim? Here’s more sad and unfortunate stories from art history:

Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

Comments

More in Women Artists

  • Artists' Stories

    Four Female Court Painters You Did Not Know

    By

    Throughout history, art has always played an important role in royal propaganda across Europe. Royal families were in a race to employ the best painters of their time. Court painter positions were generally filled by male artists; however, there were many female painters whose talents were...

  • 21st century

    Zdzisław Beksiński’s Passion for Music

    By

    In the history of art, so much has been written and said about the close relationship between music and painting. Numerous painters have declared strong musical inspiration for their art, starting with Poussin and ending with Kandinsky, Whistler, or Chagall. Within that group, there is a...

  • 20th century

    Zinaida Serebriakova, First Famous Female Russian Artist

    By

    Zinaida Serebriakova (1884–1967) is mostly known for her painting At the Dressing-Table (Self-Portrait). The artist, looking from the mirror’s reflection, smiles at us in many Souvenir shops. But Serebriakova was not just the author of one picture, and definitely not the author of just portrait paintings....

  • Barnett Newman, Cathedra, 1951, oil and acrylic on canvas, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Barnett Newman, Cathedra, 1951, oil and acrylic on canvas, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

    Abstraction

    Barnett Newman, A Pillar of Abstract Expressionism

    By

    When one thinks of Abstract Expressionism, the name of Barnett Newman pops up immediately. That is only fair since he is a pillar of the movement and his contribution to contemporary art is huge. Newman was a very philosophical person and his work had deep meanings....

  • 20th century

    Janet Sobel: the Forgotten Female Artist Who Influenced Jackson Pollock

    By

    Although almost entirely erased from the canon of Abstract Expressionist art, Janet Sobel (born Jennie Olechovsky) is now slowly gaining recognition as one of the original creators of the “drip painting” technique that many critics have previously associated with Jackson Pollock. Who was Janet Sobel? Born...

To Top