A rite of passage for artists is the self portrait. This is a further way to express themselves through their art; Christian Schad is similar to his peers in this aspect. For Christian Schad, this was a time for him to channel New Objectivity or Neue Sachlichkeit, a movement defined by its return to order from abstract painting, through a personal piece of art. He had the chance to show his viewers a symbolic representation of his personal world, instead of painting other people and their worlds. Self Portrait was painted by Christian Schad in 1927. It is also known as Self Portrait with Model and it is one of the most famous examples of New Objectivity. 1Christian Schad painted this work in Vienna and noted,” What I found in Vienna for my self-portrait are partly reminisces, partly symbolic images.” 2 Self Portrait is a symbolic work that captures the emotions and ideas of not only this time period but also the emotions and ideas of Christian Schad as a person and not just an artist which is different from his other works.
This work has two figures depicted. The male in the foreground is Christian Schad. Instead of painting himself as an artist at work or alone he paints himself post intimacy. This is understood because of the female nude as well as both figures resting on a bed. Only the upper half of his body is shown in this work. He wears a transparent shirt that has a green hue to it. Schad painted the transparent shirt instead of presenting himself completely nude because he found it more appealing 3. Christian Schad envisioned this shirt to be a kind of woven shirt found in the ancient times on the Island of Kos which to Chrisitan Schad, is a nod to antiquity and incorporates a feeling of exposure while still being clothed. 4 The shirt leaves his chest basically exposed except for the delicate material over it; the viewer can fully see his chest, even his chest hair. He looks away from the viewer at an angle. His eyes are filled with suspicion and hostility. His body position suggests that he has no emotional connection to this woman which is symbolic of how he felt. He was alone in the world with no true connections to anyone; even though he was married at the time of this work.
Behind Christian Schad is the female form in the work. Christian Schad did not know the woman, he only saw her in Vienna while she was running a shooting stall at a fair 5. She lies behind Christian Schad in a partially upright position. Behind her a narcissus is in bloom which is a symbol of the two figures’ narcissism. 6 Both of the forms are resting on a bed. Even though the female form is nude only the top half of her is exposed. Christian Schad’s body in the foreground blocks her lower half from the viewer. The only sight of her lower half that the viewer gets to see is the top of her red stocking. She has a popular female haircut and looks like a typical woman during this time period; not idealistic but not ugly 7. She also has on a full face of makeup. She looks away from the viewer, off into space. Her eyes seem sad and somewhat scared. She has a scar that runs down her left cheek which makes the viewer wonder what kind of accident lead to that scar and did the male form do that? Historically scars like this were common in Southern Italy and were known as “sfregio” which was a scar that jealous husbands or lovers would inflict upon the women. The women in return would be proud of them because it made public the amount of passion they can instill on a man 8. The woman’s scar is symbolic in this work because it shows the passion that Christian Schad felt about art. The scar is a symbol of passion and it is obvious that Christian Schad is passionate about his art. The scar is also a symbol of the permanent damage that Germany faces because of the socioeconomic times as well as the pain that is inflicted upon the German people because of these hard times. The woman herself and the subject matter of this work are both symbolic in that they represent what was popular in the time. The woman is a modern woman and there was a new acceptance of casual sex in Venice. The female also has a black ribbon tied around her left wrist and that, along with the red stocking, “hint at her state of semi-undress 9.”
Behind the two forms is a city scene. They are separated from the city by a very thin and sheer fabric. From the lighting the viewer can tell that it is nighttime. The city seems to be an industrial city which was common to this time. Tall chimneys and smokestacks are seen in the background. The background represents a Christian Schad’s vague longing for Paris. 10 Paris was a center for sexual freedom as well as a center of expanding culture during this time. The work symbolizes a need for sexual freedom because Germany was not up to speed with Paris in that aspect. Germany was also not up to speed with Paris in terms of industrialization Germany had been an agrarian society and was one of the last European countries to industrialize. The viewer can gather from this painting that to Christian Schad, every city needed to be similar to Paris
The overall mood of this work is cold. A feeling of sexuality and inaccessibility is present 11. It leaves the viewer with an unsettled feeling. Neither one of the forms are looking directly at the viewer which was common for Christian Schad’s work. With that being said, the forms are not looking at each other at all. Even though they are in physical proximity to each other they do not seem close at all. There is a sense of animosity between the two and a strong sexual tension. This is aided by the fact that Christian Schad is partially clothed and the female is still nude which gives off the feeling that the male is leaving while she lays there used. This was an instance in where Christian Schad was not used and discarded but instead he was the one who was using the other person.
For this work Christian Schad used a dark palette with small bursts of color. The background is comprised of dark shades of gray and black. The fabric that separates the forms from the city is a lighter gray color. The material that makes up the bedding is black and white but in two different variations; the fabrics clash and look dysfunctional. This is representative of the mood between the two forms as well as Christian Schad’s outlook on the world they live in. Different pops of color are seen with the white flower, the red stocking and the hint of green on his shirt. The small bursts of color were symbolic of hope. They were bursts of color among monotonous dark shades.
As Christian Schad stated, “My pictures are never illustrative. If anything they are symbolic 7.” Self Portrait is an intimate work in itself beyond what it depicts because it is a message from the artist about his life. Not only does Self Portrait symbolize the economic hardships during this time but it also symbolizes Christian Schad’s personal pain and desires by painting a very intimate moment and including symbols for the viewer to understand. Because of this Christian Schad proves that he is the leader of New Objectivity and a master of symbolism and provocative art.
1. Vienne, Autriche. Christian Schad. (Wien, LeopoldMuseum ; Köln : Wienand, cop.
2. Schad, Christian. Christian Schad. (Basel: Basel : Editions Panderma Carl Laszlo. 1972), 229-230.
6. Vienne, Autriche. Christian Schad. (Wien : LeopoldMuseum ; Köln : Wienand, cop.
8. Schad, Christian. Christian Schad. (Basel: Basel : Editions Panderma Carl Laszlo. 1972), 229-230.
11. Vienne, Autriche. Christian Schad. (Wien : LeopoldMuseum ; Köln : Wienand, cop.