This winter the Gemeentemuseum is proud to present the first ever Dutch retrospective of work by Christian Schad (1894-1982), a key figures in the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement. Schad was famous in the 1920s for his chilly portraits of VIPs, celebrity entertainers and aristocrats, painted with an intense and almost hypnotic gaze. This exhibition features the iconic paintings of that period, but also reveals the subsequent evolution in Schad’s work. It includes several of his ‘Schadographs’ and a selection of his experimental graphic work.
Even as a student in pre-war Munich, Christian Schad was familiar with the Expressionist work being produced by Oskar Kokoschka and Wassily Kandinsky. He painted his first canvases influenced by them during a visit to Volendam in 1914. He then emigrated to Zurich, where the lawyer and writer Walter Serner introduced him to the Dadaist circle surrounding the Cabaret Voltaire (including Hugo Ball and Hans Arp). Nevertheless, the paintings of this period – mainly of café or cabaret scenes – betray Cubist influences. In 1917 Schad moved to Geneva, where he produced works, such as a number of colourful reliefs, showing greater Dadaist influence. It was also at this time that he devised his famous Schadographs – photograms created by placing objects (and sometimes texts) on light-sensitive paper and exposing them to light from different angles, so that the silhouettes of the objects were recorded on the paper. Decades later, this technique was to be repeatedly exploited by artists like Làszlò Moholy Nagy and Man Ray.
In 1920 Schad returned to Munich. From there, he made many visits to Italy and came under the influence of Italian Realism as represented, for example, by the Novecento Italiano group. In Italy, he studied the paintings of Renaissance artists like Rafael and Botticelli, adopting their palette and clear-cut formal idiom in his own work. Among the results is a brisk portrait of Pope Pius XI which made Schad internationally famous. In 1927 Schad moved to Berlin, where the majority of his celebrated ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ portraits – of people like Egon Kisch and Count St. Genois d'Anneaucourt – were painted.
The exhibition reveals how Schad continued to produce figurative paintings after the Second World War. In some of his late paintings, he is clearly influenced by his friendship with Francis Picabia, while others reflect his admiration for Cocteau. Rather surprisingly, during this period Schad also created a large number of collages, combining photographs of people cut from magazines with abstract motifs. From 1954 he began to produce colourful woodcuts and lithographs which have much in common with the Dadaist reliefs created during his time in Switzerland. In the 1960s, his portraits began slowly but surely to exude a more Magic Realist atmosphere.
The exhibition, a cooperation of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and the Leopold Museum in Vienna, is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue authored by Anna Auer, Thomas Richter and others.