Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rudolf Schlichter

 Wieland Herzfelde, Eva und George Grosz, Schlichter und John Heartfield in 1922

Rudolf Schlichter (1890-1955) - like Hermann Hesse - was born in Calw, a small town in Württemberg. He left the school early and started an apprenticeship as an enamel painter at a Pforzheim factory. Schlichter's later pretension that, as a twelve years old boy,  he started to work as a lift boy in a Grand Hotel building up an exciting collection of  stolen high heels, was probably invented.  From 1906 to 1909 he attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Stuttgart and subsequently studied under Hans Thoma and Wilhelm Trübner at the Art Academy in Karlsruhe. After his studies, Schlichter shared an appartment with Fanny Hablützel, a professional street girl, and made a living selling pornographic pictures under the pseudonym Udor Rédyl.

Rudolf Schlichter, Berlin Hausvogteiplatz, 1926

Called for military service in World War I, Schlichter carried out a hunger strike to secure early release, and in 1919 he moved to Berlin where he joined the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) and the November Group. Schlichter took part in the First Berlin Dada fair in 1920 where he displayed - together with John Heartfield - the Prussian Archangel assemblage, a pig-headed military officer that they suspended from the ceiling. He also worked as an illustrator for several periodicals, notably Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ), Die Rote Fahne and Eulenspiegel. Art became Schlichter's weapon in the political fight against the upper class and militarism. His favoured sujets were depictions of the city, street scenes, the sub-culture of the intellectual bohème and the underworld, portraits and erotic scenes. 

Rudolf Schlichter, Tingel-Tangel, 1919

In 1922, a group of artists - Otto Dix, Conrad Felixmüller, Rudolf Schlichter, Carlo Mense, Carl Hofer, Georg Schrimpf, and Heinrich Maria Davringhausen - mocked the Novembergruppe for having become depoliticized and subsequently established an art movement to be later named the Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity. Their work, all of which was later condemned by the Nazis as "degenerate," was intense, angular, and nervous. In 1924, with John Heartfield and George Grosz,  Schlichter created the Rote Gruppe (the Red Group). 

 Rudolf Schlichter, Portrait Bert Brecht, 1926

Schlichter was at that time considered one of the most important members of the Neue Sachlichkeit; Bert Brecht, Alfred Döblin, Oskar Maria Graf, Erich Kästner, Carl Zuckmeier and Egon Erwin Kisch were among his friends. In 1925 Schlichter participated in the Neue Sachlichkeit exhibit at the Mannheim Kunsthalle (that's exactly where the notion of Neue Sachlichkeit was coined). Schlichter's work from this period was realistic, a good example being his portraits of Karola Neher, Bertold Brecht (above) and Margot, now in Berlin's Märkisches Museum. The latter depicts a prostitute who often modeled for Schlichter, standing on a deserted street and holding a cigarette:

Rudolf Schlichter, Margot, 1924

In 1927, Schlichter befriended Elfriede Elisabeth Koehler, called Speedy, a cocotte from Geneva, who shared Schlichter's interest in buttoned boots, bondage and masochistic games. Schlichter now abandoned the workers' movement and associated with conservative intellectuals such as Ernst Jünger and Karl Kraus ("There is no more unfortunate creature under the sun than a fetishist who yearns for a woman's shoe and has to settle for the whole woman"). Speedy and he even re-joined the Catholic church. A strange move, but Schlichter felt masochistic about his masochism and wanted to confess, while Speedy was content to somehow officialize her new life. 

 Rudolf Schlichter, Untitled, c. 1930

At the beginning of the 1930s Schlichter wrote his autobiography in two volumes: Das widerspenstige Fleisch (The Rebellious Flesh) and Tönerne Flüsse (Clay Rivers); the latter was immediately put on the index by the new Nazi-Government because of its "erotic-perverse tendencies". In 1932 the Schlichter couple left Berlin and setlled in Rottenburg (a small town near Stuttgart). Three years later, he was expelled from the Reich's Association of German Writers, and spent a couple of months in prison on procuration charges (Speedy had supplemented the family income receiving paying customers in their private flat). 

 Rudolf Schlichter, Blind Power, 1937

In 1937 many  of Schlichter's works were shown in the infamous Degenerate Art Exhibition, and in 1939 the Blind power of Nazi authorities banned him from exhibiting. His studio was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1942. One year after the war, in 1946, Schlichter participated in the 1. Deutsche Kunstausstellung in Dresden with some of his late surrealistic works. He explained his turn to Surrealism in his text "Das Abenteuer der Kunst" (The Adventure of Art), which was published by the Rowohlt Verlag in 1949. Rudolf Schlichter died in Munich on 3rd May, 1955. You can see more of Rudolf Schlichter`s work here in my Flickr set.


  1. This is an incredibly useful bio of Schlichter when there is little American literature written on him. Do you mind if I ask your source or sources? I am beginning a thesis project on Schlichter and could use all the aid possible.

  2. Well written, very informative indeed! Just wonder why wasn't Dada mentioned by name? If in Chicago, would love for you to speak at the Dada exhibit in my Out of Line Art Gallery. Can you?

  3. What makes you think Speedy was a cocotte, meaning prostitute? Im fact she played one in the 1929 silent movie "Tagebuch einer Verlorenen" (Diary of a lost girl) and maybe in 1929's "Achtung! Liebe! Lebensgefahr!". She also had some lovers it is said. But no information that she was actually a cocotte. The source would have my interest.