Thursday, July 1, 2010

Christian Schad

 Christian Schad, Self-Portrait, 1930s

Christian Schad (1894-1982) was born in Miesbach, Bavaria as the son of a wealthy lawyer family. He studied at the Art Academy in Munich in 1913, but quit after a couple of months because he rejected any examinations. A pacifist, he fled to Switzerland in 1915 to avoid service in World War I, settling first in Zurich and then in Geneva. Both cities were centers of the Dada movement, and Schad became a Dadaist and witnessed the foundation of the famous Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich

Christian Schad, Imperial Countess Triangi-Taglioni, 1926

In this period he developed a close friendship with the writer and dadaist Walter Serner. Beginning in 1918, Schad created his own version of the Photogram (which later was named "Schadographs" by Tristan Tzara) where a contour picture is developed on light-sensitive platters. Schad's descriptions of his techniques were eventually used by both Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy in their more extensive explorations.

 Christian Schad, Amourette, 1918 (Schadography)

Schad's paintings of 1915–1916 show the influence of Cubism and Futurism. Schad's most famous oil painting of that period, Kreuzabnahme (Cross-Decrease), was painted in grayish tones with Walter Serner as the model:

 Christian Schad, Kreuzabnahme, 1916

From 1920 to 1925, Schad spent some years in Rome and Naples, where he studied the Italian painters and was influenced by the new Italian Realism, notably by Ubaldo Oppi, Felice Casorati and the artistic group Novecento Italiano. In 1921 he started to paint in a sober, realistic style later referred to as Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), displaying  his interest in the relationship of the individual to society and conveying a sense of isolation and alienation. Schad married a lady from Rome, Marcella Arcangeli,  in 1923.  A wondeful portrait of Marcella was painted three years later:

 Christian Schad, Marcella, 1926

In 1927 the family emigrated to Vienna where Christian and Marcella separated (she died 1931 in a bathing accident). Schad went to Berlin in 1928 and settled there, now painting some of the most significant works of the New Objectivity. He led a dandyesque life visiting salons, dance and night bars. He was involved with some drawings in a "Guide to the vicious Berlin". His figures and motifs reflect the "golden" glamorous side of the Twenties.

Christian Schad, Self-Portrait with Model,1927

Also in 1927 Christian Schad painted his above "Self-Portrait with Model", which today has become the best known and most reproduced work of the artist and the New Objectivity. As the "painter with a scalpel," he dissects himself and his lover with cool objectivity. His eyes are wary, the atmosphere of the picture is cool, almost icy. The people depicted have nothing to say. Schad reported later that the woman's face was that of a stranger he saw as a customer in a stationery shop. The "sfregio", the facial scar, is a kind of "proof of love": the women in Naples wore these scars with pride to show that they had a jealous husband or lover.

 Christian Schad, Loving Boys, 1929

After the Nazis had seized power in 1933, Schad's art was not condemned in the way that the work of Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, and many other artists of the New Objectivity movement was, and in 1934 he was even able to submit some works to the" Great German Art Exhibition". This may have been because of his lack of commercial success and because the paintings of that time no longer possessed the cool sharpness of his earlier work. Also, Schad withdrew into a sort of "internal exile", reducing his painting to a only a few works. 

Christian Schad, Dr. Haustein, 1928. Dr. Haustein 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 where many of the distinguished 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:"

In 1935 Schad took over the management of a brewery operation (the family fortune had vanished in the 1929 stock market crash) and developped an intense interest in  East Asian mysticism. In 1936 the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed some of his  early Schadography - without his knowledge. In search of a model Schad met the young actress Bettina Mittelstadt whom he portrayed in 1942. She became his second wife in 1947.

 Christian Schad, Bettina, 1942

After the destruction of his Berlin studio during a 1943 bombing raid Schad moved to Aschaffenburg, Bavaria. The city commissioned him to copy Grünewald's Virgin, a project on which he worked until 1947. Schad continued to paint in the 1950s in a softened, almost kitschy style. He died in Stuttgart on February 25, 1982.


  1. I went to an exhibition in Madrid last May (2009) called Shadows.
    The painting by Christian Schad of Dr Haustein was there, it was also used on the front of the brochure.
    I am very pleased to read all about him now here! The portrait was fascinating, compelling and mysterious.I am glad he survived the war. A stroke of luck.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Warren. You might be also interested in Ubaldo Oppi (I just finished a blog about him) who influenced Christian Schad during his stay in Italy:

    Nice regards from Berlin ;)))

  3. The first picture "Christian Schad, Self-Portrait, 1930s" is a common known fake. It was not painted by Schad and isn#t a portrait of him. Pls remove.