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Artists Charlotte Salomon

Charlotte Salomon

German Painter

Charlotte Salomon Photo

Born: April 16, 1917 - Berlin, Germany

Died: October 10, 1943 - Auschwitz, Poland

I will live for them all (after she decides to paint and survive)

Summary

Perhaps one of the most underestimated artists in recent history, Charlotte Salomon secretly created a daunting visual opus while in exile during World War II. As a young German Jewish woman who witnessed the rise of the Nazis, Salomon used her artistic talent and vivid imagination to craft an expressive collection of imagery and text from an intensely personal story. Her work not only reveals an adept grasp of modernist aims and techniques, but also exposes the psychological workings of an artist desperately trying to maintain her individual identity at a time when her very existence was threatened by both internal and external forces.

Key Ideas

Salomon's vast, sequential work blithely blends real-world events with flights of fancy, resisting the categories of fiction and autobiography. She transforms lived experience from her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood into the subjects of her painted narrative. Yet, she presents the drama from a distance, narrating the events from the perspective of a spectator, as if they were not her own personal memories but rather a compelling fictional saga. Salomon rejects the notion that art must come exclusively from an artist's experience or creative imagination, instead drawing from both sources without apology.
A prominent theme throughout Salomon's work is the question of whether individuals are subject to certain fates beyond their control. Her characters appear destined to particular experiences - especially hardships - based on aspects of their identity they didn't choose, such as family history and religious background. At times, Salomon defied these inherited destinies foisted upon her, refusing to remain at schools condemning her Jewish heritage in 1930s Berlin or to fall victim to her family's pattern of suicides. However, Salomon and her characters also struggled to resist seemingly fateful, often tragic, outcomes. Salomon utilizes her characters to question fate and free will, using the framework and techniques of art to explore a serious, and at times painful, concept in her life.
Salomon skillfully employed her knowledge of storytelling, musical composition, and visual art in one space to engage an imagined reader on many levels. The element of performance is a driving factor throughout Salomon's narrative. She willingly acknowledges her audience by anticipating questions from hypothetical readers and using techniques from musical theatre throughout her composition, including popular song lyrics as captions for her images and giving stage directions to describe the thoughts and behaviors of the characters. During her lifetime, Salomon never enjoyed a widespread audience for her work, yet she did not let her isolated artistic practice prevent her from engaging with the consumers of her fascinating tale and compelling imagery.
Charlotte Salomon Photo

Charlotte Salomon was born in an upper middle-class family in Berlin in 1917. Her father, Albert Salomon, was a renowned physician, and her mother, Fränze Grunwald, known as Franziska, was a nurse for the German army when they met. An only child, Salomon spent the first years of her life in a defeated city broken by the war, living with a busy father devoted to his career and a depressed mother still traumatized by the suicide of her younger sister, Charlotte, who was eighteen years old when she drowned in 1913. Named after her late aunt, Salomon (called Lotte by most) and her mother often visited her aunt's tomb. Unfortunately, Salomon's mother's condition continued to decline over the years, until she finally committed suicide herself in 1926, when Charlotte was only eight years old. The truth was kept from the little girl, who believed that her mother died of influenza.

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