'The most striking, best groomed, and most beautiful women that I met as I sojourned in different parts of Europe were the women of Berlin' ('Bildlegende for Sonja', cited in exh. cat. Christian Schad and die Neue Sachlichkeit, New York, 2003, p. 233).
Christian Schad's Portrait of Eva von Arnheim is one of the artist's last great Neue Sachlichkeit portraits. Its sitter Eva von Arnheim was the owner of a school of modern dance and gymnastics in Berlin. She was also a friend of the legendary modern choreographer Mary Wigman (née Karoline Sophie Marie Wiegmann) who had founded her own dance school in Dresden in the 1920s and who, like Arnheim here, famously adopted an androgynous appearance at this time. Intriguingly, von Arnheim, about whom little else is known, is also mentioned briefly in the writings of that infamous 'Master of the Occult' Alastair Crowley.
Schad first met von Arnheim at one of the popular soirées held by his friend Dr Haustein in the Bregenzerstrasse. Haustein, who also sat for Schad, was a dermatologist with a specialist interest in syphilis who serviced the prostitutes on Berlin's Kurfürstendamm. In the late 1920s his home became a fashionable salon were many of the prominent artistic and literary figures of the time would meet. Schad described the unique atmosphere there as being one of 'extreme intellectual and erotic freedom [where] writers, artists, and politicians would mingle with a plethora of scientists, physicians and beautiful women' (Christian Schad, 'Bildlegende for Dr Haustein', cited in exh. cat. Christian Schad and die Neue Sachlichkeit, New York, 2003, p. 232).
The exotic mix of characters frequenting Haustein's salons provided Schad with several of his subjects including the 'mannequin' Sonja and 'the Operation'. Like many of his Neue Sachlichkeit contemporaries, Schad was fascinated by extremes, drawn to the outsiders, eccentrics and freaks for his subjects, because in them he found a more representative reflection of the unique and fascinating nature of the Weimar period. Schad was drawn to his sitters in the same way that Otto Dix was who declared when he met the boyish-looking lesbian critic Sylvia von Harden for the first time 'I must paint you... I simply must! You are representative of an entire epoch... You have brilliantly characterised yourself and all that will lead to a portrait representative of an epoch concerned not with the outward beauty of a woman but rather with her psychological condition' (Otto Dix cited in S. Michalski, Neue Sachlichkeit, Cologne, 1999, p. 53).
Like Dix too, Schad often drew on the techniques of the old masters. In particular Schad drew on classical art, which in his hands lent a disquieting sense of timelessness to his sharp and clear portraits of the up to the minute contemporary fashions and trends of dilettantish Weimar Berlin society. His portrait of Eva von Arnheim is a typical example of this tendency, combing a sleek and painstakingly detailed portrait of the modern-looking boyish and immaculately groomed von Arnheim, with the classical portrait techniques of the Italian Renaissance. Depicted in profile looking to the right of the painting and set against a mottled blue, sky-like background, one could be forgiven for thinking there might be a classical Italian landscape extending behind her into the distance. Such Italianate features, which perhaps hark back to Schad's years in Italy when, under the influence of Raphael, he had first begun to paint in the realist or 'sachlich' style for which he is best known, are here offset against the Spartan simplicity of von Arnheim's modern dress. With her hair slicked back and her simple low-cut dress revealing no cleavage, it is only the delicate features of her face that betray her gender. Even the ermine stole which she sports draped nonchalantly over her shoulder seems an almost mockingly butch attribute as if von Arnheim were ironically posing as some modern-day Heracles.
This ermine stole, which inevitably brings to mind Leonardo da Vinci's famous portrait of a lady with (a live) ermine, has from antiquity onwards symbolised purity and chastity. If Schad was aware of this, which, given his interest in Renaissance art, he may well have been, its limp and lifeless appearance here on the shoulder of an androgynous socialite that Schad had met in Dr Haustein's salon, was probably also mocking and ironic.
There is also, as Louis Waldman has written of this work, another possible significance for the presence of this ermine stole in this work. In Waldman's article on the painting, An anagrammatic attribute: Christian Schad's portrait of Eva von Arnheim, Waldman points out that the ermine may in fact be a complex reference to Arnheim herself. In Leonardo's famous painting The Lady with an Ermine the Greek word for Ermine was for many years believed to be a pun on the sitter's name. It is possible that Schad played the same complex intellectual game in this work for, as Waldman explains, by 'substituting one of its vowels, the French word for ermine, 'hermine', is in fact an anagram of the sitter's surname... The use of the French for the anagram is hardly surprising in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Berlin between the wars; nor would it have been untypical of the Francophile Schad, who in later years recounted how his 1916 move from Zurich to Geneva was motivated by a desire to hear French spoken instead of German' (L. Waldman, 'An anagrammatic attribute: Christian Schad's portrait of Eva von Arnheim', Burlington Magazine, April 1993, pp. 276-7).
Portrait von Eva von Arnheim
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'Schad 1930' (lower right)
Berlin, Deutsche Kunstgemeinschaft-Herbstausstellung, 1930, no. 177.
London, Arts Council of Great Britain, Hayward Gallery, Neue Sachlichkeit and German Realism of the 1920s, 1978, no. 224 (illustrated in the catalogue p. 149).
Milan & Munich, Galleria del Levante, Christian Schad, no. 67.
Berlin, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Christian Schad, June - August 1980, no. 138 (illustrated p. 180-181).
New York, Lafayette Parke Gallery, Expressionism & Realism, 1990, no. 42.
New York, Galerie St. Etienne, The New Objectivity - Realism in Weimar Era Germany, September - November 1997.
German & Austrian Art
16¼ x 12½ in. (41 x 31.5 cm)
A. Heesemann-Wilson, Christian Schad, Expressionist, Dadaist und Maler der Neuen Sachlichkeit, Leben und Werk bis 1945, Diss. phil., Göttingen, 1987, no. 117 (illustrated p. 290).
C. Laszlo, Christian Schad, Basel, 1972, p. 215.
L. Waldman, 'An anagrammatic attribute: Christian Schad's portrait of Eva von Arnheim', The Burlington Magazine, XXXV, no. 1081, April 1993, pp. 276-277.
G.A. Richter, 'Nachrichten vom Menschen, zu den Bildern von Christian Schad', Christian Schad, 1894-1982, Cologne, 1997 (illustrated p. 30).
G.A. Richter, Christian Schad, Bonn, 2002, no. 111 (illustrated p. 231)
Carl Laszlo, Basel.
Barry Friedman Gallery, New York.
Lafayette Parke Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.