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Life? or Theatre? by Charlotte Salomon
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Life? or Theatre? (original 1981; edition 1999)

by Charlotte Salomon

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1246153,195 (4.47)1
"This is my whole life," Charlotte Salomon said when she gave her doctor and friend the enormous suitcase containing her life's work for safekeeping. Life? Or theatre? is the result of months of restless work in a small room in a hostel during which Charlotte Salomon appealed to everything inside her: her perfect visual memory, her insight into family and friends, her education at the Art Academy in Berlin and, most of all, the inspiration of her short but intense love for her stepmother's singing teacher.That is how Charlotte created this singular work of art, a graphic novel avant la lettre, consisting of 781 gouaches and hundreds of drawings--a mixture of paintings, texts, and musical annotations--which together tell the story of a family between World War I and 1940. In more than one gouache, influences of George Grosz and Modigliani are recognizable, while others are foretastes of the contemporary graphic novel. The work shimmers with beauty and precision. This timeless masterpiece, now published for the first time in a complete edition including several recently discovered gouaches, is truly a unique work by an artist whose life inspired not only David Foenkinos's internationally bestselling novel Charlotte but also a movie, a documentary, an opera and a ballet.Sold in an elegantly printed box, this deluxe edition contains over 1,300 color illustrations as well as illuminating essays on Charlotte Salomon's life and work by a close friend of the Salomon family and by curators of past exhibitions of Salomon's artwork. Featuring a revealing, recently-discovered letter from Charlotte Salomon to Amadeus Daberlohn, translated into English for the first time and with invaluable annotations by Salomon scholars Mary Felstiner and Darcy Buerkle, this edition of Life? Or theatre? is truly the definitive collection of Charlotte Salomon's work.… (more)
Member:stephvr
Title:Life? or Theatre?
Authors:Charlotte Salomon
Info:B.V. Waanders Uitgeverji (1999), Paperback, 832 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:illustration, art

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Life? Or theatre? by Charlotte Salomon (1981)

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English (5)  German (1)  All languages (6)
Showing 5 of 5
I thought I had already read this book after I saw the exhibit at the Jewish Contemporary Museum in San Francisco on August 30, 2011. (https://www.thecjm.org/exhibitions/35) I hadn’t added it to Goodreads though and I was already a member. Perhaps I was able to read only portions of the book at the time, so I reread/reskimmed it so that I could rate and review it now. (I just noticed I shelved it as to read on 8/30/11. I think that I read much of the book while at the exhibit. There were copies available. We spent hours there but most of that time was looking at the art and the captions at the pieces and I am now assuming I wouldn’t have had time to read the entire book.

For me, this is a full 5 stars worthy book. I’d remembered mostly the art and Charlotte’s story but the text play is just as compelling and wonderful as the art. I love this book! I admire how Charlotte was able to take pain and turn it into art.

I love this artist’s art. I am interested in her story. I was happy to revisit both. It’s a really heavy book so I was able to read it only when home. I was not willing to carry it around with me. It’s a paperback but heavier than most hardcover books. The quality of the art as shown on the book’s pages is excellent. The art content and their captions tell a fascinating and complete story. The art alone does a lot. There are also sections at the start of the book that are also fascinating and educational. They’re are text heavy but include some lovely and helpful and interesting photos and also some of Charlotte’s art.

From the inside front cover of the book that precedes the Contents page: “The work that Charlotte Salomon entitled Life? Or Theater? figures among the 1,325 gouaches and transparencies owned by the Jewish Historical Museum. This publication includes reproductions of 769 gouaches, thirteen printed pages of text and one transparency. Only the unnumbered programme booklet (JHM no. 4155) and three unnumbered gouaches have been added. At Gary Schwartz’s recommendation the sequence of gouaches JHM no. 4404 has been switched in contrast to the previous edition. The numbering of these gouaches conflicts with the story’s continuity. All texts accompanying the gouaches are by Charlotte Salomon.”

Everything about this book is 5 star worthy. The art, Charlotte’s writing, the biography written about her and her time, which spanned from 1917 WWI to the middle of WWII 1943. It’s just as chilling as it’s ever been to read about what happened in the years 1933-1943, in this case how it affected Charlotte and her family and those she knew.

She was German Jewish but was living in France when she was captured by the Nazis. As far as her biography, what most impressed me was how suicide and depression were rampant in her family members (including her closest women relatives!) and ancestors, and she suffered from depression and contemplated suicide and she was obsessed with the family suicides, but she chose life. When she was sent to Auschwitz at 26 she was 5 months pregnant. She was gassed upon arrival. If she’d not been pregnant (choosing more life) she might have survived. She chose life and then was murdered. It’s so sad. Tragic. Her father & stepmother did survive and it was them being given her art/play/writings/ work that reminded me of Otto Frank being given Anne Frank’s diary.

Her play autobiographical play (personal and family and what was going on in Nazi occupied Germany/socially/historically) takes place from 1913-1940 and is supposed to be set to music. I’d love to hear the music. Some of the music in the directions is known to me and I could hear some of it in my head as I read.

When I decided to read/reread this book I had planned to make a list of my very favorite art pieces in the book but I just couldn’t do that. Yes, I love some more than other, want to view some longer than others, but I’d adored too many to list, maybe about half of them. I will say that overall I liked the art earlier in the play more than the art later in the play. I was a tad frustrated that I couldn’t read the German words included in some of the art. I was able to translate some of the words, though not nearly enough to understand what she was trying to convey with her words.

She was already an accomplished artist before she wrote this long piece. I am interested in seeing all of her art and maybe in reading an in depth biography of her, her family, her contemporaries, and their places in history. ( )
  Lisa2013 | Feb 11, 2020 |
These paintings were done in France after 1940 where she moved. They relive her younger years in Berlin and were completed shortly before she was deported to Auschwitz where she died ca. 1943.
  HolocaustMuseum | Nov 23, 2011 |
The introductory material and information is somewhat incorrect. Charlotte's work is a unique and classical contribution to late German Expressionism. Anyone interested in the Holocaust and pre-WWII Germany should own this book. ( )
  RoyHartCentre | Jun 5, 2009 |
I went to a talk about Charlotte Salomon last year, and put a
brief comment
on my blog, including a link to the online collection at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. ( )
  michaelshade | Apr 22, 2008 |
Heartbreaking. A young woman's entire life, recorded in her art, prior to her murder in the Holocaust. ( )
  Autodafe | Apr 10, 2008 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charlotte Salomonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Terpoorten, FritsPhotographersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Belinfante, Judith C.E.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beukers, MariëllaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herzberg, JudithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vennewitz, LeilaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Life? Or theatre? is the result of months of restless work in a small room in a hostel during which Charlotte Salomon appealed to everything inside her: her perfect visual memory, her insight into family and friends, her education at the Art Academy in Berlin and, most of all, the inspiration of her short but intense love for her stepmother's singing teacher. That is how Charlotte created this singular work of art, a graphic novel avant la lettre, consisting of 781 gouaches and hundreds of drawings-a mixture of paintings, texts, and musical annotations-which together tell the story of a family between the First World War and 1940. In more than one gouache, influences of George Grosz and Modigliani are recognizable, while others are foretastes of the contemporary graphic novel. The work shimmers with beauty and precision.This timeless masterpiece, now published for the first time in a complete edition including several recently discovered gouaches, is truly a unique work by an artist whose life inspired not only David Foenkinos's internationally bestselling novel Charlotte, but also a movie, a documentary, an opera and a ballet. [Amazon.co.uk]
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