The Decision, 1978
In a dramatic composition in a nuanced range of reds and purples, a man raises his chained arms over his head, eyes shut, as if to protect himself. The hands of an unseen figure reach for his neck and into his hair. Another unseen figure holds its arm across his chest. In the top left of the picture, we see a bald-headed man in a pensive pose whose gaze is directed downwards. It is not entirely clear whether the man in the centre is about to open his eyes, and whether he is being held prisoner or tortured.
In this unsettling image full of melancholy and depression, Ruth Baumgarte explores the absolutely taboo subject of suicide. Taking one's own life was seen as a sin, a crime or a sign of madness until well into the 20th century.
In her watercolour Der Entschluss (The Decision), Ruth Baumgarte is responding to the suicide of her cousin Dieter Noack in 1975 and processing his decision. The face of her cousin is dignified. The chains and the hands reaching for him symbolise the psychological prison in which he found himself and which drove him to end his life. This is a profound and enormously empathetic depiction.
Dieter Noack (known as Didi) had often sat for Ruth Baumgarte in the 1940s and 1950s.