Ruth Baumgarte
I Believe in Woman – Images of Women 1940–2004

With the painter and draughtswoman Ruth Baumgarte (1923-2013), the Stadtmuseum Siegburg is presenting one of the surprising rediscoveries in the art world of recent times. In particular, the exhibition of her work at the Albertina Vienna in 2022/23 has attracted a wide audience interested in the artist's highly topical themes.

Opening of the exhibition: Sunday, April 14, 2024, 11:30 am

Throughout her life, Ruth Baumgarte dealt with questions of human existence in her work. As a precise observer of her time, she was always focused on reality. However, she turned to the inner experiences of people in her paintings with great empathy at an early stage. The emancipated artist was particularly interested in the role of women, their multiple tasks and the typologies of femininity between self-determination and dependence. The solo exhibition with around 50 oil paintings, watercolors and drawings focuses on this theme for the first time and traces the images of women in Ruth Baumgarte's work from 1940 to 2004.

Duration: April 14 - July 07, 2024

Invitation card

The exhibition opens with a selection of striking self-portraits in which the artist reflected on important transitional and upheaval phases in her life and work. Ruth grew up in the cosmopolitan Berlin of the "Golden Twenties", to which the single mother Margarethe Kellner-Conrady had moved with her daughter in 1925. Her mother later gave up her career as an actress in order to take more care of her daughter. Her father Kurt Rupli, theater director, film director and later UFA production manager, lived separately in the background. During Ruth's school years, her mother recognized her talent for drawing and made sure that she was accepted at the age of 16 by the well-known private art school in the West run by the painter Emmy Stalmann.

From then on, drawing became the most important medium of her artistic career and precise observation with pen, pencil or brush became a fundamental instrument for assuring herself and her surroundings. A series of portraits of women from around 1943/46 show her mother, her aunt, friends, acquaintances and people on the street: unembellished, precise and objective in the time of the horrors and atrocities of the Second World War. Politically and racially persecuted people also became forbidden subjects of her early work.

Ruth Baumgarte received essential impulses for her figure design from the world of theater and dance with her role plays and productions, which inspired her to create stage-like compositions. Women were given leading roles in her symbolic picture series from the 1970s onwards. Examples include her picture series Wintertod from 1982/83 or A la recherche du temps perdu from 1984, in which the female figures are woven into ambiguous spaces that symbolize their inner states of emergency.

Winter Death I, 1982, watercolor over charcoal on cream Ingres paper, WV 590

Ruth Baumgarte's images of women thus reflect the "new subjectivity" (Frank Biess) of the 1970s, which seem more relevant than ever in today's emotional society of social media.

The artist was increasingly startled by the political movements of her time and moved by the "daily anxiety of our eighties" (Ingeborg Drewitz, 1983). Ruth Baumgarte rethought her pictorial design and, from 1985 onwards, explicitly addressed current political debates on the anti-nuclear, environmental and social movements. A reduced cast of figures conveys fear, despair or rebellion against the prevailing social canon with its concise body language. The technically sophisticated, transparent watercolor technique offered the painter an ideal means of revealing the psyche of people in their modern turmoil.

Ruth Baumgarte had been working on her Africa cycle in parallel since 1984. The continent with its power, but also its great social and political changes, became the focus of her brilliant late work, which initiated the international reception of her work. Her Africa cycle was created at a time when the post-colonial discourses that are now highly publicized were only just beginning. Her vibrant color compositions were inspired by the special light of the continent and already pointed to the great political unrest and movements there, which were also reshaping the lives of women.

Morning II, 2004, oil on canvas, WV 1047

The exhibition is accompanied by a folder with an introductory text by Viola Weigel (Ruth Baumgarte Art Foundation) and numerous color illustrations. Exhibition catalogs and the three-volume catalog raisonné Ruth Baumgarte (Hirmer-Verlag 2022) are available.

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