The Genre-Bending, Death-Defying Triumph of Charlotte Salomon’s Art

By Meilan Solly
"Life? or Theatre?" combines memory and imagination, presenting flashbacks and split screens filled with a “dizzying array” of allusions to other art forms. (Collection Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam © Charlotte Salomon Foundation) 
A few weeks after her June 17, 1943, wedding, a young Jewish artist named Charlotte Salomon entrusted her friend and doctor, Georges Moridis, with a trove of carefully wrapped papers. “Keep these safe,” she said. “They are my whole life.” Part autobiography, part musical composition and part dramatic script, the works saved by her doctor—organized into a sweeping collection their creator titled Life? or Theatre?—trace both Salomon’s personal story and the looming threats she faced as a Jewish refugee living in France. A new exhibit at the Jewish Museum London, “Charlotte Salomon: Life? or Theatre?,” unites 236 of these paintings, 50 of which have never before been displayed in the United Kingdom, in a triumphant celebration of endurance against all odds. [More]
Salomon covered some of her paintings with transparent text overlays. (Collection Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam © Charlotte Salomon Foundation)
In this scene from "Life or Theatre?," a seemingly endless parade of Nazis celebrate Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Germany’s chancellor while swastikas swirl above their heads. (Collection Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam © Charlotte Salomon Foundation)