“The war raged on and I sat by the sea and saw deep into the heart of humankind.”(Charlotte Salomon, 1942)
‘Charlotte Salomon was murdered in a gas chamber shortly after her arrival at Auschwitz in October 1943. She was 26 and pregnant. Salomon was supposed to be forgotten, erased from history, along with the millions of Jews murdered in the 1940s. But after the defeat of Nazi Germany, her father and stepmother – who in genocide’s lottery survived their daughter – found a cache of her paintings that included one of the most astonishing autobiographical documents of the 20th century. Before she was put on a train to her death, Salomon had set down everything about herself, her family and her world in a coruscating expressionist comic book that she named Life? or Theatre?’ (Jonathan Jones, from a wonderful article about Salomon’s exhibition at the Jewish Museum in London, in 2019)
It is staggering to consider that it’s been nearly 80 years since Salomon was murdered, and yet her works still have a power that resonates, and that is both as shocking and as powerful as when they were first exhibited. With many debates happening about memory, history and how we remember – or perhaps forget – major events, Salomon’s works (known as the Life? or Theater? series) are as timely now as when they were first created.
As the Nazis were coming for Salomon and her family, she entrusted her art to a friend with the simple yet awesome plea: “Keep this safe. It is my whole life.”
Charlotte Salomon (1917 – 1943) is our latest Artist You Need To Know, brought to you by AIH Studios, on this Canada Day, as her images intersect between art making and history, truth and emotion, and have the ability to both engage and horrify today.
Her works have been shown at the AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario, but are part of the collection of the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam.
All works are by Charlotte Salomon, from Life? or Theater? and a very extensive site on this artist’s work and legacy can be found here. Another very moving and more personal narrative of Salomon’s life and artwork, by Meillan Solly here is also a fine testament to the artist’s contemporary power and relevance. Several ideas in this feature have also been informed by this article, as well.