An important component of Christian Schad’s work and a huge contribution to the New Objectivity movement was that Christian Schad captured different types of people.1 Instead of depicting the ideal person he captured the lives of people that other artists would never consider painting. This work, Agosta the Winged-Man & Rasha the Black Dove, depicts two people in a social category that were not commonly depicted in works of art and are more than just figures in a painting.
Agosta the Winged-Man & Rasha the Black Dove was painted in 1929. The work was created in Germany; Christian Schad was living and working there during this time. The work has two figures, one male and one female. The female, Rasha, is of African descent and wears a red tribal print dress. Her hair is cut short and curly. Behind her is a shirtless German male, Agosta and he is depicted sitting in a high-backed chair. His shirt and jacked are strewn behind him. He has a mutation of his skeleton which causes his ribs to protrude from his abdomen. Only the upper half of each figure is visible.
Because these people were not the typical models, where did Christian Schad find them? Northern Berlin was home to a fair called the Onkel Pelle. It was so highly visited by citizens from all across Europe that raids would frequently break out and people would be thrown into jail if they did not have the correct identification. 2
Agosta and Rasha were parts of a sideshow act at the fair. Each person had their own claim to fame. Rasha had two interesting aspects to her that the crowd enjoyed, she was from Madagascar and she danced with a large snake. Rasha was married to a German man and they, along with their son, lived in a caravan. Her husband was a performer as well, he lifted weights by using a hook inserted through his tongue. Christian Schad reported that one day Rasha came in for a painting session and was very upset because she caught her son attempting to pierce a hole through his tongue with a nail to be like his father.3 The snake she performed with also lived in the caravan with them.4
Agosta’s claim to fame was that he had a severely deformed upper body. 5 He was a spectacle for the visitors to look at because of the rarity of his deformity. He was also used as a teaching method at the Berlin teaching hospital because of his skeletal deformity. 6 Even side shows have their groupies, Agosta claimed to Christian Schad during a painting session that he was always having to ward of women and turn them down because he loved his wife.7
An important aspect of this work is that it is static. Christian Schad was known for painting a lot of his works as static and lacking motion. 8 The two figures in the work are being observed, which is not farfetched from their daily lives. Instead of being scrutinized for being different they are the subjects of a work of art; a thing of beauty. They are not being observed because they are different but it is their differences that make them beautiful.
The palette that Christian Schad uses is dark with deep shades of several different colors. This sets a somber mood for the work. The red dress that Rasha wears is contrasted with the dark hue of her skin which is then contrasted by the light coloring of her shell necklace. The work is kept in balance because Agosta’s skin is light but it is contrasted by the chair he sits in. There are definite borders of the figures and forms in this work and there is no question to what the figures are. However, to a person who is unfamiliar with Agosta’s skeletal deformity the viewer might at first be taken aback and confused with Agosta’s torso by assuming that it is an artistic liberty that Christian Schad took.
Christian Schad captured the two figures with high levels of detail. Christian Schad was able to capture the contrast between the different shades of Agosta and Rasha’s skin as well as the folds of their skin. 9 Their eyes lack any emotion what so ever and are completely passive. Their eyes lack judgment even though the eyes that look at them are often judging. They stare out from the portrait but not directly at the viewer. Christian Schad was also able to capture the natural skeletal deformity realistically. 10
It is important to note the symbolism of the title of this work. Rasha is referred to as a “black dove” and Agosta is referred to as the” winged man”. As domestic creatures birds are normally locked in a cage and viewed, they are not popular for contact as other domestic pets are. Rasha and Agosta are similar to birds in that they are constantly being viewed. The dove is known as a symbol for hope, peace, and love. Several aspects of Rasha’s life support her being referred to as a dove because she came from Madagascar for a better life, she has a family and she is at peace with herself even though the world is not. To go along with the theme of the title, Agosta is the winged man. This is because of his deformity which causes his ribs to look similar to wings. By incorporating both of the figures with bird names it is a symbol of their daily lives and that they are similar to birds because to the public, they are nothing more than something to gawk at.
To study the work of Christian Schad it would be impossible to do so without looking at this work. At first glance it seems like a simple work, but it is characteristic of Christian Schad’s other work. It is also full of symbolism. This work captures the lives of two people and captures their hopes and dreams, all in a single painting. They are more than a sideshow, they are people.
1) Christian Schad. Christian Schad. (Basel: Editions Panderma Carl Laszlo. 1972), 234.
4) Vienne, Autriche. Christian Schad. (Wien : Leopold Museum ; Köln : Wienand, cop.
9) Christian Schad. Christian Schad. (Basel: Editions Panderma Carl Laszlo. 1972), 232.