Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

Christian Schad, 'Boys in Love'

The exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt collects images from some of the most important issues of the Weimar era. Among the political debates that took place during that time was one regarding Article 175, a law dating back to 1871 which forbade homosexuality. A grassroots campaign from 1919 to 1929 sought to abolish the law and very nearly succeeded.

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

Otto Dix, 'Woman with Mink and Veil'

After WWI, Berlin grew to be the world’s third largest city and quickly gained a reputation for nightlife and hedonism that attracted people from around the globe — including prostitutes, injured war veterans and those looking to make an easy buck. The contrast of Ku'damm's fur-clad matrons with the poverty of the tenement houses of the eastern districts was a common theme in the art of the time.

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

The expressionism of Otto Dix

Otto Dix used simple materials to capture Weimar Berlin’s depravity. The World War I veteran vacillated between sketches like that shown above, "Pimp and Girl," and disturbing recollections of wartime frontlines. The contrast served as criticism of the country’s inability to adequately grapple with its war past.

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

The extravagance of the Ku'damm

Comprising 190 works of art by 62 different artists, the exhibition showcases the contrasts of the Weimar Era in its selection. This sketch by Dodo (born Dörte Clara Wolff), "Box Logic," was created for the satire magazine "Ulk" in 1929 to highlight the lives of the wealthy who continued their extravagant lifestyles as anti-Semitism and economic depression severely shifted the mood in Berlin.

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

'Margot' by Rudolf Schlichter

Irmgard Keun's novel, "The Artificial Silk Girl," brought Weimar Berlin to life from the female perspective. Struggling to make ends meet while hopping between parties and prostituting herself while wrapped in a stolen fur, the narrator comments on her fellow women, noting: "There are clubs where women sit wearing stiff collars and ties, who are frightfully proud of being perverse."

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

'Self-Portrait with Son,' 1933

Granted suffrage in Germany on November 12, 1918, women were emancipated as never before. That liberality was felt in many aspects of society, as women took on professional jobs and political debates on contraception, marital rights and prostitution. Artists like Kate Diehn-Bitt captured the New Woman in their works of social realism: urban, independent, self-confident, androgynous in appearance.

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

Jeanne Mammen captured Berlin in transition

A central fixture in Berlin's art scene was artist Jeanne Mammen, Berlin-born but raised in France before she returned to the German capital during World War I. Her sharp eye captured the city and its citizens in a time of great transition. In paintings like the 1926 watercolor "Ash Wednesday," Mammen captured the era's hedonism and bore witness to the liberality and excesses of the period.

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

Political tension: 'Weimar Carnival'

In "Berlin Alexan­der­platz," Alfred Döblin wrote of a vibrant capital city in upheaval as he documents the life of Franz Biberkopf. In it, and in paintings like that by Horst Naumann above, the rise of anti-Semitism, militarism and National Socialism came into full view. As Döblin wrote: "He has seen the para­mil­i­tary troopers, the young men, and their leader, too, that is some­thing."

Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic

Georg Scholz, 'Café (Swastika Knight)'

"Splendor and misery in the Weimar Republic" seeks to make clear just how the foundation for societal and economic advancements that we might take for granted today were laid during what many recall fondly, though not altogether accurately, as a decade of decadence. The exhibition runs through February 25, 2018 at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.

The Weimar Republic (1918-1933) was full of contradictions, political tension rising alongside artistic and societal revolutions, and all captured stunningly in German art from the era.