Discovering Charlotte Salomon.
Today I want to introduce you to one of my favourite artists called Charlotte Salomon .
I've discovered Charlotte Salomon one cold morning where I was absently watching tv while waking up with a coffee. A short documentary about her came up and that stopped me in my tracks.
I fell in love straight away, and this 5 mn story about her made a massive impact on me.
It is very rare when you connect so much with an artist that you feel like you understand them and their work straight away. It took about a minute for me to fall in artistic love with Charlotte Salomon.
So who is she ?
Charlotte Salomon was a German-Jewish born artist born in Berlin in 1917. She is primarily remembered as the creator of an autobiographical series of paintings that form a monumental work called Leben? Oder Theater?: Ein Singspiel (Life? Or Theatre?: A Song-Play)
I then began to be completely obsessed with her and needed to know all about her. She made me mad with curiosity and stirred so many feelings in me. Her style reminded me very strongly of my favourite painter Marc Chagall, in somewhat a simpler way.
My mother bought me a book about her life, Charlotte by David Foenkinos, and I read it in 2 days, connecting with Charlotte, understanding Charlotte, suffering with Charlotte.
Because her life was tough, cruel, unbelievably painful , a life where the happy moments are few but cathartic and priceless.
Charlotte Salomon's work was painted between 1941 and 1943 while she was living in France hiding from the Nazis. She had to escape Germany and leave behind her parents and stayed with her grandparents.
Her father Albert was a renowned surgeon and her mother in law a very famous Opera singer.
Her mother commited suicide when Charlotte was nine. She discovered this as an adult and also learned that her aunt and her grandmother commited suicide too. Should she commit suicide as well as her grandfather tells her it's her destiny ? Or should she choose to live ?
Charlotte chose to live and break fate.
“Leben? Oder Theater? Consists of 769 individual works all painted during her french exile.
In the space of 2 years she painted over 1000 gouaches, working with feverish intensity. She edited the paintings, re-arranged them, adding texts, captions and overlays”. She was well known to hum songs to herself while painting.
“Charlotte's work is a slightly fantastic autobiography recording the main events of her life “, her mother's death, her relationship with her family members, her obsessive love for her mother in law's voice teacher, her inner turmoil ; but altering the names and employing a strong element of fantasy. She also added notes of different music pieces that would complement her work and increase the dramatic effect and thus created her lyrical drama. She also never lost her sense of humour as she often gives funny pseudonyms to her characters.
In 1943, as the Nazis intensified their search for Jews in the South of France, she left her work to her doctor, her trusted friend and told him “Keep this safe, this is all my life”
She married another german refugee, but by September 1943, she and her husband were captured from their home to be deported to a processing centre first, then in Auschwitz.
Charlotte Salomon was proably gassed on the day she arrived there.
She was five months pregant.
She was 26 years old.
She was an amazing artist who achieved a deeply moving and extremely personal work and she should not be forgotten.
Her work can be seen at the Jewish History museum in Amsterdam , and she has some occasional exhibitions around Europe.
There is also a book of the 769 paintings called Life? Or Theatre? (I obviously have one) , I think it's quite difficult to find however some bookshops may have it or also on the Internet.
I hope I sparked an interest for her work and that people will be curious to know more about her. Here is the trailer for the only documentary fiction that I think exists about her life and work.