Charlotte Salomon

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photo of Charlotte Salomon, painting in the garden at Villa L'Ermitage, Villefranche-sur-Mer, c. 1939

Charlotte Salomon (16 April, 1917 – 10 October, 1943) was a German-Jewish artist born in Berlin. She is primarily remembered as the creator of an autobiographical series of paintings 'Leben? oder Theater?: Ein Singspiel' / 'Life? or Theater?: A Song-play', consisting of 769 individual works, painted between 1941-1943, hiding from the Nazis.

Quotes of Charlotte Salomon[edit]

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes of Charlotte Salomon
self-portrait, Charlotte Salomon painted in 1940 with gouache-paint on cardboard
picture: JHM no. 4155-1: first painted/written page of: 'Life? or Theater?: A Song-play', gouache on paper; this work is the title page of Charlotte Salomon's principal work: 'Life? or Theatre?', made in 769 gouaches on paper, she started c. 1940-41
picture: JHM no. 4175: related text: Franziska (mother of Charlotte): 'In Heaven everything is much more beautiful than here in earth – and when your Mummy has turned into a little angel she'll.. ..bring a letter, telling her what's like in Heaven..'. Franziska was of somewhat sentimental disposition.
Transparency of the text written with brush, meant for over the picture JHM no. 4175
the combination of the gouache & the Transparency of image JHM no. 4175
picture: JHM no. 4351; the picture depicts the fictional 'Charlotte Kann' at work after taking drawing lessons following a discouraging start
picture: JHM no. 4762; ; the picture depicts the Kristal-Nacht, 9–10 Nov. 1938 in Germany
picture. after JHM no. 4859 (not correct): in 'Charlotte Salomon', opera by Marc-André Dalbavie, Salzburg Festival, July 2014
picture, after: JHM no. 4824: in 'Charlotte Salomon', opera by Marc-André Dalbavie, Salzburg Festival, July 2014
picture, after several paintings about 'Daberlohn, playing with the 'dices': in 'Charlotte Salomon', opera by Marc-André Dalbavie, Salzburg Festival, July 2014
picture: JHM no. 4925: 'Life or Theater', this work is the concluding page of Charlotte Salomon's principal work 'Life? or Theatre?'; editors place it at the end of the final 'Epilogue' section
picture: JHM no. 4925-T: 'Life or Theater', this work is the last of the transparent overlays with written text in her 'Life? or Theatre?'; editors place it between the final two pages of the Epilogue section
  • ..And with dream awakened eyes she saw all the beauty around her, saw the sea, felt the sun, and knew she had to vanish for a while from the human surface and make every sacrifice in order to create her world anew out of the depths.
    And from that came
    Life or Theater???
    • original German language, Zitat von Charlotte Salomon: ..und sie sah – mit wachgeträumten Augen all die Schönheit um sich her – sah das Meer spürte die Sonne und wusste: sie musste für eine Zeit von der menschlichen Oberfläche verschwinden und dafür alle Opfer bringen – um sich aus der Tiefe ihre Welt neu zu schaffen
      Und dabei entstand<brdas Leben oder das Theater???
    • Quote, probably 1943, in Charlotte Salomon: Life? or Theatre?, (ed.) Judith C. E. Belinfante et al, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1998, ISBN 0-900946-66-0, p. 38; as cited om Wikipedia
      • these are the concluding words of the last overlay: JHM 4924-02, of the epilogue - quoting ideas of her former love in Germany Alfred Wolfsohn, she called him 'Amadeus Daberlohn' in her paintings
  • That which van Gogh attained later in life.. ..a brushstroke of unprecedented lightness, which unfortunately seems to have a distinctly pathological side, I have attained already..
  • I became my mother, my grandmother. I learned to travel all their paths and became all of them.. .I knew I had a mission, and no power on earth could stop me.
  • My life began when my grandmother decided to take hers, when I found out that my mother's whole family did the same thing [told bij het grandfather c. 1941], when I found out that I am the only one surviving, and when I felt the same inclination deep inside of me, craving for despair and death.
    • Quote in Charlotte's letter, to her father, c. 1941-43; as cited in 'Life in Pictures Charlotte Salomon and her art beyond life tragedies', on Art-smart
    • Charlotte wrote her father from South-France, about the events with her grandparents where she stayed. Then she took up her brush with the intention to realize an ambitious plan of creating an autobiographical novel in pictures.
  • Keep this safe, it is my whole life.
    • Quote of Charlotte Salomon, 1943; as cited on Wikipedia, English
    • as the Nazis intensified their search for Jews living in the South of France in 1943, she handed the 769 paintings on paper over to a trusted friend with these words

Charlotte Salomon - Life? or Theater?[edit]

Quotes from: 'Charlotte Salomon - Life? or Theater?, ed. Mariële Beukers; translation, Beate Griebner & Leila Vennewitz; Waanders Publishers, Zwolle, 2006 (EAN/ISBN 978 90400 8297 9)
  • 'Life? or Theater?' - A Play with Music - C.S.
    • Charlotte's 1st introduction page, related to image JHM no. 4155-1: 'Life? or Theater..', p. 41
    • written in brush - her title is indicating the close relation for her between drama, music, text and painting
  • Consisting of a 'Prelude', a 'Main Section', and an 'Epilogue' - (dedicated to Ottillie Moore)
    • Charlotte's 2nd introduction page, related to image JHM no. 4155-2: 'Consisting of..', p. 42
    • written in brush - she presents here the rough division of the complete series of her paintings, divided in three parts
  • 'The tri-coloured play with music begins' (in Deutsch: Das Drei Farben Singespiel beginnt..)
    the cast is as follows
    Dr. and MRS. Knarre, a married couple
    Franziska and Charlotte, their daughters
    Dr. Kahn, a physician
    Charlotte Kahn, his daughter
    Paulinka Bimbam, a singer
    Dr. Singsong, a versatile person
    Professor Klingklang, a famous conductor
    An Art teacher
    Professor and Students at an art academy
    and Chorus..
    ..The action takes places during the years 1913 to 1940 in Germany, later in Nice, France
    • Charlotte's 3rd introduction page, related to image JHM no. 4155-3: 'The tri-coloured play with music begins..', p. 43
    • the quote is written in brush, over the whole page of the painting, with a rough painted gate above
  • ..Since I myself needed a year to discover the significance of this strange work, many of the texts and tunes, particularly in the first paintings, elude my memory and must - like the creation as a whole so it seems to me - remain shrouded in darkness.
    • Charlotte's 4th introduction page, related to image JHM no. 4155-4: 'What is man, that thou art mindful..', p. 44
    • the quote is written in brush, combined with one rough painted figure
  • The creation of the following paintings is to be imagined as follows: A person is sitting beside the sea. She is painting. A tune suddenly enters her mind. As she starts to hum it, she notices that the tune exactly matches what she is trying to commit to paper. A texts forms in her head, and she starts to sing the tune, with her own words, over and over again in a loud voice until the painting seems complete. Frequently, several texts take shape, and the result is a duet, or it..
    • Charlotte's 5th introduction page, related to image JHM no. 4155-5: 'The creation of the following..', p. 45
    • this quote is written in brush over the whole page of the painting, without any figure
  • ..even happens that each character has to sing a different text, resulting in a chorus. The varied nature of the paintings should be attributed less to the author than to the varies nature of the characters to be portrayed. The author [= Charlotte Salomon] has tried.. ..to go completely out of herself to allow the characters to sing or speak in their own voices. In order to achieve this, many artistic values had to be renounced, but I hope that.. ..this will be forgiven. - The author, St. Jean, August 1940/42
    • Charlotte's 6th introduction page, related to image JHM no. 4155-6: '..even happens that each character..', p. 46
    • this quote is written in brush over the whole page of the painting, without any figure


  • Franziska (mother of Charlotte): 'In Heaven everything is much more beautiful than here in earth – and when your Mummy has turned into a little angel she'll.. ..bring a letter, telling her what's like in Heaven..'. Franziska was of somewhat sentimental disposition.
    • written text with brush, in her painting JHM no. 4175: in 'Life? or Theater..', p. 66
    • her mother committed suicide when Charlotte was still a young girl - as many in her family did, before or later
  • Fashion drawing teacher: 'Yes, drawing is a difficult art. One has to have some talent for it - and unfortunately you haven't.
    Charlotte: 'No, I refuse to stay here with this stupid old cow, where through the dirty window even the sun's bright ray can only dimly play.. .Only he who dares can win. Only he who dares can begin.
    • written text with brush, in her paintings JHM no. 4334 + 4335: in 'Life? or Theater..', p. 222-223
  • Daberlohn's diagnosis [about the etching she made as his portrait] holds encouragement for Charlotte.. ..Daberlohn (in his letter) 'In my opinion you are destined to create something above average.'
    .. ..'Above average.' She is elated by his letter and really feels quite proud.. .While beginning to paint the buttercup-strewn meadow where she happens to be sitting, she decides to make his prophecy come true and actually create something 'above average'.
    • written text with brush, in her paintings JHM no. 4599 + 4600: in 'Life? or Theater..', p. 482-483
  • Charlotte: 'I have some more [paintings she recently made] to show you'.
    Daberlohn: Well, let's meet this evening... ..
    Isn't it absurd to address each other so formally? You're such a baby – here, let me hold your hand.. ..Real painter's hands'.
    Charlotte: 'To me they're just ugly'.. ..'You would be a wonderful subject for a portrait -'
    Daberlohn (to himself) : 'Little girl, if you only knew what one has to go through to be able to paint'.
    • written text with brush, in her paintings JHM no. 4640 + 4641 + 4642 + 4643: in 'Life? or Theater..', p. 522-525
  • The following pictures are those which to the author seem the strangest. Without doubt they have their origin in Michelangelo Rome series of the main section that was sung with the loudest and most penetrating voice of this entire opus. ('Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo')
    • written text with brush in her painting: 'Only by touching can greatness be achieved' in image JHM no. 4685: in 'Life? or Theater..', p. 567
  • Daberlohn writes: 'The creation of Adam is God's final act which He hurls from His heights into the depths. It is not the same God Who creates eve. This is the tragedy of the king who must hand over his dominion to his son…
    • written text with brush, in her painting JHM no. 4687: in 'Life? or Theater..', p. 569
  • Daberlohn: 'One must first go into oneself to be able to go out of oneself. One means of going out of oneself is, for me, the movie, man's machine for producing himself'.
    • written text with brush, in her painting JHM no. 4693 + 4694: in 'Life? or Theater..', p. 575
  • ..Thus in the presence of the scorching sun, purple sea, and luxuriant blossoms, the memory of an experience of her fervid early love [Daberlohn = Alfred Wolfsohn ] came back to her. And she tried to visualize that face, that figure. And Io, she succeeded, and she noticed that this was a very interesting occupation. For she discovered that that figure...
    • Charlotte's 6th ending, written page in brush, related to JHM no. 4922v: (553) 'Life? or Theater..', p. 818
  • ...might possibly preserve her from suicide inasmuch as she remembered one of Amadeus's favorite utterances: Love, know thyself first in order to love thy neighbour. And then: one has to go into oneself - into one's childhood - to be able to go out of oneself. And he felt that the movie was the machine of modern man as a means of going out of oneself. And finally she recalled the famous couple embracing under a bathrobe, functioning as one person.
    • Charlotte's 5th ending, written page in brush, related to JHM no. 4923r: (554) 'Life? or Theater..', p. 819
  • And now something strange happened to our Charlotte. While busy painting, as she always was, she fell asleep in the midday sun. And when she awoke, the finished portrait of her once so ardently beloved Daberlohn [ = Alfred Wolfsohn ] lay before her. However, she tore the sheet into a hundred thousand shreds.. ..she sought for an explanation.. .Then her glace fell on one of her old paintings representing Death and the Maiden. And suddenly she knew...
    • Charlotte's 4th ending, written page in brush, related to JHM no. 4923v: (555) 'Life? or Theater..', p. 820
  • ...two things. First that Daberlohn's eyes seemed to say: 'Death and the Maiden, that is the two of us;' and second, that she still loved him as much as ever. And if he was Death, then everything was alright, then she did not have to kill herself like her ancestors.. .So she was in fact the living model for his theories, and she remembered...
    • Charlotte's 3th ending, written page in brush, related to JHM no. 4924r: (556) 'Life? or Theater..', p. 821
  • ...his book, Orpheus, or the Way to a Death Mask, of which he had said that he regretted not having written it as a poem.
    And with dream-awakened eyes she saw all the beauty around her, saw the sea, felt the sun, and knew: she had to vanish for a while from the human plane and make every sacrifice in order to create her world anew out of the depths.
    • Charlotte's 2th ending, written page in brush, related to JHM no. 4924v: 'Life? or Theater..', p. 822
  • And from that came:
    Life or Theatre?
    • Charlotte's last written page in brush, related to JHM no. 4925T: 'Life? or Theater..', p. 823
  • Life or Theatre?
    • written text with brush, in her last painting JHM no. 4925: (558) 'Life? or Theater..', p. 824

Quotes about Charlotte Salomon[edit]

sorted chronologically, by date of the quotes about Charlotte Salomon
  • One day her grandmother brought her to see me, and there she stood, slender, blue eyed.. .The conversation was of no interest for her. The only thing that absorbed her for the moment was the southern landscape Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. All this light and colour was new to her and struck a profound chord in her mystical, sensitive nature.. .All day long she sat in the garden, drawing and painting. Or she would lie for hours under an orange tree, looking in the blue sky.. .Wherever she happened to be, she pulled out her sketchbook. She had to unburden herself, and her language was pencil or brush..
    • Quote of Emil Straus, a friend; as cited in Charlotte Salomon - Life? or Theater?, ed. Mariële Beukers; translation, Beate Griebner & Leila Vennewitz; Waanders Publishers, Zwolle, 2006 (EAN/ISBN 978 90400 8297 9), p. 6
  • We know from Marthe Pècher, the owner of a small hotel in St. Jean Cap Ferrat where Charlotte Salomon completed her work, that she always hummed while working. The music she uses to accompany her paintings is a medley of classical themes: Carmen by Bizet, Orpheus & Euridice by Gluck, melodies by Bach, but also popular tunes, folk-songs, film music. In the second series she hardly ever mentions the music - apparently she did not need it any more to create the intended effect on the reader.
    • Quote of Judith C. E. Belinfante; as cited in Charlotte Salomon - Life? or Theater?, ed. Mariële Beukers; translation, Beate Griebner & Leila Vennewitz; Waanders Publishers, Zwolle, 2006 (EAN/ISBN 978 90400 8297 9), p. 35
  • In a few words she [Charlotte] touches on the key points of his [ = Alfred Wolfsohn, her former lover in Germany, she called Amadeus Daberlohn in her work] philosophies, rushing past them - Adam and Eve, Original Sin, Judaism, Christianity, The film ass a modern menas to gain insight into oneself: the voice of the infant, leading to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, to singing - the gold in the throat expressing the soul.
    • Quote of Judith Herzberg, in the first complete published edition of 'Life? or Theatre?', 1981; as cited in Charlotte Salomon - Life? or Theater?, ed. Mariële Beukers; translation, Beate Griebner & Leila Vennewitz; Waanders Publishers, Zwolle, 2006 (EAN/ISBN 978 90400 8297 9), p. 13
  • And yet, apart from a handful of depictions of the Third Reich, Salomon's work is not about the Holocaust at all but, rather, about herself, her family, love, creativity, death, Nietzsche, Goethe, Richard Tauber, Michelangelo, and Beethoven. It chronicles the genesis of an artist from a family of dark secrets - mental illness, nervous breakdowns, molestation, suicides, drug overdoses, and Freudian love triangles: a harbinger to our age of grand confessionals.
    • 'Life? or Theatre?' comprises seven hundred and sixty-nine gouaches that Salomon chose and numbered from a total of twelve hundred and ninety-nine; three hundred and forty transparent overlays of text; a narrative of thirty-two thousand words; and multiple classical-music cues. It is a work of mesmerizing power and astonishing ambition. Placed side by side, the ten-by-thirteen-inch paintings would reach the length of three New York City blocks. Salomon called the work 'something crazy special'; its uncategorizable nature is another reason why she has been left out of the canon of modern art, and seen only on the periphery of other genres into which she dipped her brush: German Expressionism, autobiography, memoir, operetta, play, and, now, murder mystery.
    • Quote of Toni Bentley in: 'The obsessive art and great confession of Charlotte Salomon', 'The New Yorker', 15 July, 2017
  • A few days later the grandfather feels a sharp pain, He leaves the house and walks toward the pharmacy. He finally reaches it, but collapses just outside. And dies. Having learnt the news, Charlotte felt such relief, as if a weight fell off her shoulders. In the back of her mind, she wanted the grandfather to leave for so many times.. .Did Charlotte precipitate this event? Later, in one of the letters, she confessed that she had poisoned her grandfather. Is it true? Or the theatre again? This is incredible and still acceptable, If you remember how much grief he [the granfather] brought to her, - constant scolding, and contempt for her work, And sexual harassment..
    • Quote in the best-seller novel of David Foenkinos: 'Charlotte' 2016; as cited in 'Life in Pictures Charlotte Salomon and her art beyond life tragedies', on Art-smart
    • In 2011 Franz Weisz made another film about Charlotte, a documentary this time. It revealed the facts that completely changed the idea of what she had to endure during her stay in South-France with her grandparents, and especially her grandfather, in addition to the already known family tragedies and several years of persecution during the war. The discussion then started: did Charlotte kill her grandfather or was it 'Theatre' again?! (a note of her is found, 1943, in which she wrote: 'I knew where the poison was. It is working now while I'm writing. Perhaps now he is already dead. Forgive me '). Charlotte told of how she fed her grandfather an omelette with veronal [poisson], and then painted his last portrait while he was dying. The portrait does exist!

External links[edit]

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