Indepth Arts News: |
"Charlotte Salomon: Life or Theatre"
2000-08-09 until 2000-10-29
Museum of Fine Art Boston
In response to personal tragedies and a world darkening with the rise of
Nazi persecution, a young German Jewish woman created a series of
small paintings remarkable for their inventiveness and the intimate story
they reveal. However, equally impressive is the fact that, unlike their
creator, who perished at Auschwitz at age twenty-six, they survived.
LifeNULL or TheatreNULL A Play with Music is the title Charlotte Salomon
(1917–1943) gave to the approximately 780 paintings in which she
fictionalized her own life to create a testament to survival and the power
of memory. As she was about to be deported, Salomon bundled up the
works and handed the package to a local physician with the poignant
words, “Take good care of it, it is my whole life.” This exhibition includes
more than four hundred of these powerful paintings from the permanent
collection of the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam.
Salomon grew up in Berlin, the daughter of a prominent surgeon and a
mother who committed suicide, a fact that was hidden from Salomon
until she was confronted with her grandmother’s attempt and ultimate
success at selbstmort (self-murder) in 1940. In 1939 Salomon’s father
and stepmother—the vibrant contralto Paula Lindberg, whom Salomon
adored—had sent her to southern France to live with her grandparents
for safety. While in exile to escape the increasing hostility toward Jews
throughout Germany, Salomon was told by her grandfather of the
family’s tragic history, which included at least six other suicides. In order
to handle this overwhelming news, Salomon, living in virtual isolation,
worked obsessively for just under two years to translate the
extraordinary circumstances of her life. She was spurred on by
recollecting the philosophy of her stepmother’s inspirational vocal
teacher, Alfred Wolfsohn, who believed genuine creativity resulted from pain and loss. The horror of the
time in which Salomon lived, as well as the happy events of her life, particularly of her early childhood, are
realized in her paintings through fictional characters who are closely aligned with actual family and friends.
Despite her conservative training at the Berlin Academy of Arts, Salomon employed an expressionistic
painting style in LifeNULL or TheatreNULL perhaps revealing her defiance of Nazi declarations that modern art is
“degenerate.” With an increasing sense of urgency, her compositions evolve from several detailed
narratives within a single composition to the simplicity and directness of the final page: a solitary figure
facing the sea, with brush in hand. LifeNULL or TheatreNULL is, indeed, an exceptional collection of images, which
we are privileged to see in depth for the first time in Boston.
Cheryl Brutvan is the Robert L. Beal, Enid L. and Bruce A. Beal
Curator of Contemporary Art.
All the works are on loan from the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam,
© Charlotte Salomon Foundation.
This exhibition was first organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
LifeNULL or TheatreNULL A
Play with Music, 1940
Jewish Historical Museum,