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Dr Rosa Schapire by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Dr Rosa Schapire by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.

About the Work

Title: Bildnis Rosa Schapire (original title)
Artist : Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Year : 1919
Medium : Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions :  Support: 1006 × 873 mm / Frame: 1121 × 981 × 80 mm
Location : The Tate, UK

Dr Rosa Schapire (1919)
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Image Courtesy : Tate, London

Who is Rosa Schapire?

Hailed as one of the front runners of the German Expressionism movement, Rottluff’s depiction of Dr. Rosa Schapire is a classic. The colours used are typical of the artist’s style. The strokes depict the emotion that the artist feels. Dr. Schapire’s portrait exudes an energy and vigour, while her dress, her hair do and her expression tell of sophistication. Gently drawing attention to the book in her hands. 

The artwork is important on several counts. Dr. Schapire was a valuable asset to the German Expressionist movement. She was an erudite scholar and one of the first women to receive an art history degree from the Heidelberg University in 1904. This was at a time when the discipline itself was in its nascent stage. She was one of the first supporters of the Brücke group.  After Dr. Rosa returned to Hamburg in 1908, she continued to work with translations and publishing criticism. She was highly respected for her opinion and her vast knowledge. Rottluff’s artwork perfectly captures the immense depth and the density of her wisdom, her very experienced persona.

“An untiring recruiter for new art”

Hand Fischer, 1923

Other Details

Artists always leave their imprints on their works and to this end, behind Dr. Rosa, is visible, Rottluff’s signature and the date, under another framed artwork, the flat face, with the eyes closed.

Both this work and Woman with a Bag were incorporated in the same decorative arrangement, carried out by Schmidt-Rottluff in 1921, for her apartment in Hamburg. The venerable Dr. Rosa, reached England in 1939 from a refugee, escaping Nazi persecution, bringing with her a large collection of Schmidt-Rottluff’s work. She has been key to the preservation of the priceless works. She donated  the bulk of her art collection to museums in Germany: Mannheim, Berlin, Altona, Hamburg and Cologne. An emancipated lady she helped found the ‘Frauenbund zur Förderung deutscher bildenden Kunst’ (Women’s Society for the Advancement of German Art) in 1916.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the archive for Artwork in Focus.

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