Boy reading, with Monkey (Dieter / Didi), 1947

Boy reading, with Monkey (Dieter / Didi), 1947
Watercolour, gouache, and pencil on paper,
58 x 43,6 cm

In the year this watercolour was painted, 1947, Ruth Baumgarte took part in the major Deutsches Buchschaffen ("German book publishing") group exhibition in Bielefeld. She earned her family's income in the years that followed as a freelance artist and illustrator – a family that included the boy Dieter (nickname Didi) who is pictured here. Didi was the foster child of her aunt Anna-Maria Schubert.

This portrait centres on a slight boy whom the artist is observing while he reads. He balances his open book on his knees and his right arm cuddles a toy monkey, whose black button eye shines at us. The boy's rosy cheeks show that he is lost in his own world. Shading in reds and greys lends a vibrant intensity to the scene, and that intensity reveals the focus in the youth's reading and contemplation. The soft, dabbed brushstrokes of the background in particular surround the slim form like a warm blanket. In this way, the artist also masterfully emphasises the fragility of her subject and his need for protection.