Götz von Berlichingen, around 1942
Later known as a drawer and illustrator, Gerhard Ulrich was one of Ruth Baumgarte's most important teachers at the Staatliche Hochschule der bildenden Künste in Berlin. Current research is exploring just how far he influenced her drawing style, in particular in her later career as an illustrator. Famous plays such as Faust or, in this case, Götz von Berlichingen by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had a prominent place in Ulrich's curriculum. The aim was to inspire the young art students to create their own, visual interpretations of the dramas.
Ruth Baumgarte's "first attempt at illustration", as she notes at the bottom, depicts the dramatic climax of a scene from Götz von Berlichingen in a mediaeval tower room: the moment of his death. The dying man is not aware of the desperate figures of Elisabeth and Lerse beside him. His wide-open eyes gaze into nothing and seem to suggest a reality beyond the material world.
Typical of the young artist is how she emphasises the movement and position of the figures' outstretched hands, creating through them a distinct, expressive choreography. The hand as an expression of human emotion is a device that Ruth Baumgarte would often use in her work to express the unspeakable.