Life? or Theatre? (f. 4277)
Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam
©Charlotte Salomon foundation, Amsterdam
From 1 February to 21 May 2006, the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme has been showing 274 gouaches from Life? or Theatre?, Charlotte Salomon’s autobiography in words, pictures and music. This is the first time such a large portion of this work has been exhibited in France.
In 1940, the German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon had just turned 23. A year earlier, she had fled Berlin and taken refuge with her grandparents in the South of France, at Villefranche-sur-Mer. There, she had to face the inexorable spread of the war but also her grandfather’s revelation, the day after her grandmother committed suicide, that her entire family on her mother’s side, including her mother, had killed themselves. “Kill yourself and we’ll be finished with this once and for all,” he enjoined her.
To ward off this terrible fate, she decided she had to urgently create “something really mad and unique”. She set feverishly to work, and in less than two years produced a complex work combining theatre, painting and music. This dazzling series of 1325 gouaches begins with her aunt, also called Charlotte, committing suicide, and ends with Charlotte determined to live and become an artist, painting facing the sea with the title of the work, Life? or Theatre?, written on her back.
“This is my whole life,” Charlotte Salomon told a doctor friend in Villefranche when gave him her work for safekeeping shortly before she was deported to Auschwitz with her husband. She died in the gas chamber as soon she arrived there in October 1943. She was five months pregnant. Her work survived and was returned to her parents after the war. It is now in the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam.
In conjunction with this exhibition, the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme and Prestel Verlag have co-published the first complete French edition of Life? or Theatre? The exhibition catalogue, on sale since December 2005, contains reproductions of all the 784 gouaches and painted texts chosen by Charlotte Salomon for the “authorized” version. It also includes the first French translation of the play, essays by specialists and a biography of the artist with a historical chronology.
The Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme is also organising a programme of events around the exhibition: lectures, films on the artists, a concert on the theme of Death and the Maiden, and guided tours of the exhibition.
This Paris presentation of this exhibition, created by the Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam, benefited from funding from the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.
© Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme