Christian Schad



Christian Schad 1894–1982
Original title
Oil paint on wood
Support: 760 × 620 mm
Lent from a private collection 1994
On long term loan


Self-Portrait 1927 is a portrait-orientated oil painting on a wooden panel that depicts the German artist Christian Schad and a young woman tightly framed in a domestic interior. The artist appears in the foreground on the left side of the composition, turning slightly to his left and staring directly at the viewer with a sharp, tight-lipped expression. He is pictured from the waist upwards and wears a translucent, collarless green shirt with a tasselled opening at the chest. Immediately behind him on the right side of the work is a naked woman sitting upright on a bed which has ruffled white sheets and a purple check-patterned cover. Shown in profile from her left side, the woman has a prominent nose and a lengthy scar running vertically down her cheek. She has a small blue ribbon wrapped around her left wrist, while the top of her red stocking is just visible on the far left of the painting. Rising from just behind the woman’s right shoulder is a single narcissus flower with white petals and a yellow pistil. In the background a nocturnal city skyline can be seen through a thin, dark blue curtain. The painting is signed and dated by the artist in the bottom right corner.

This work, which has also been known as Self-Portrait with Model (see, for example, Bond and Woodall 2005, p.168), was made in 1927 in Vienna, where Schad lived between 1925 and 1927. The face of the woman depicted was inspired by someone Schad encountered in a Viennese stationery shop. He added a scar based on those he had seen on the faces of women in Naples, where he lived in 1923–4. Known as freggio scars, these markings were inscribed by men on their lovers as a sign of possession and as a warning to potential rivals (see Rewald 2006, p.76).

In a 1977 caption for this work, Schad claimed, ‘My pictures are never illustrative, if anything, they are symbolic’ (quoted in Rewald 2006, p.76). Accordingly, his Self-Portrait contains several symbolic elements particularly connected with notions of identity and appearance. For instance, the transparent shirt worn by the artist suggests a veiled approach to his own self-presentation, especially as his companion is shown without clothing. In addition, the narcissus flower – which in Schad’s painting leans discernibly towards the artist – evokes the eponymous Greek myth in which a vain man drowns after trying to embrace his own image in a pool of water. Schad himself claimed, ‘no-one is entirely free from narcissism’ (quoted in Bond and Woodall 2005, p.168), and in 2006 the curator Sabine Rewald argued that despite the erotic connotations of the scene, Self-Portrait ‘is not about the aftermath of heat and passion but is meant as an allegory of narcissism’ (Rewald 2006, p.74).

Born in Bavaria in 1894, Schad trained briefly at the Art Academy in Munich in 1913, where he made expressionist woodcuts. He moved to Switzerland in 1915, living first in Zurich and then from 1916 to 1920 in Geneva, where he became part of the emerging dada movement. In 1918 he began a series of ‘Schadographs’ , which consist of photographic images produced not with a camera but by placing objects on photosensitive paper that is exposed to sunlight (see, for example, Schadograph 1918, Museum of Modern Art, New York). Between 1920 and 1925 Schad lived in Italy, where his practice was especially influenced by Renaissance artists such as Raphael (1483–1520). Subsequent paintings such as Self-Portrait can be closely related to the development of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a style of precise realist painting that first emerged in Germany in the early 1920s. Schad returned to Germany in 1927, living in Berlin until 1943, when he moved to the Bavarian town of Aschaffenburg to complete a commissioned full-scale replica of Matthias Grünewald’s Stuppach Madonna 1514–19.

Further reading
Christos M. Joachimides, Norman Rosenthal and Wieland Schmied, German Art in the 20th Century: Painting and Sculpture 1905–1985, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1985, pp.39, 498, reproduced no.172.
Anthony Bond and Joanna Woodall, Self-Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London 2005, pp.20, 22–3, 168–9, reproduced p.169.
Sabine Rewald, Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2006, pp.7, 27–9, 74–6, reproduced p.75.

Richard Martin
May 2016

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Display caption

Schad claimed that 'no-one is entirely free from narcissism.' This self-portrait is loaded with symbols connected to identity and appearance. The artist is positioned in front of the woman, but only partially conceals her nakedness. In contrast to the naked woman, Schad wears a transparent shirt. A narcissus flower, indicating vanity, leans towards the artist. The woman’s face is scarred with a sfregio, a wound inflicted as a punishment by Neapolitan criminals. The work contains violent and erotic suggestions. Despite this, Schad said, 'it is not about the aftermath of heat and passion but is meant as an allegory of narcissism.’

Gallery label, August 2020

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