Triptych, 1995-97, Oil on canvas, 120 x 80 cm (left), 120 x 120 cm (middle), 120 x 80 cm (right)

Even the Elephant´s Death Will Occur on a Single Day, 1995-1997 (left panel)

The three titles of this triptych are encrypted. The left scene carries the title Even the Elephant’s Death Will Occur on a Single Day. Three vultures floatingly stagger through the air. In Africa, they appear at places where something has died. The three eagles on the right part of the triptych, which carries the title The Stream of Time, sit on a cliff, while a fourth one, free-floating between the rock formations, is targeting something at ground level. The eagle is a symbol of life and is considered as a donor of light and fertility. The artist certainly intended to refer to the much-needed societal change of the African society, which experienced an epoch-making transition with the end of South Africa’s apartheid policy in the mid-1990s.

Turn of the Fire, 1995-1997 (middle panel)

Ruth Baumgarte chose the representative image format of the triptych in order to emphasise the importance of the central image. She portrays a larger-than-life seized young African woman who carries a bundle of brushwood on her back. With the help of a forehead strap, she balances the heavy load. She glances, with a sceptic look distorted with pain, past the viewer. Behind her, two figures sitting on the floor and stacking wood are shown. In Africa, lighting fires is one of the women‘s duties, who often spend hours searching for wood before a fire can be lit. This takes away a lot of time and, additionally, cooking over an open fire is a significant health risk since the inhaled smoke makes many women fall ill. Turn of the Fire – we do not know why Ruth Baumgarte chose this title.

The Stream of Time, 1995-1997 (right panel)

We encounter the three-part painting and its vibrant colourfulness. The painting’s radiant primary colours red, yellow, and blue have an energetic effect on the viewers. Triptychs exist since the 15th century.

Up until the end of the 19th century, triptychs only appeared in religious contexts. A triptych is a three-part image that consists of a central panel and two narrower side panels. It was used to emphasise certain scenes featuring figures and topics from the Bible on the central panel. On the side panels, secondary characters or a chronological order of events were depicted. Usually, a reading direction from left to right was adhered to.

In the 20th century, major triptychs by Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka, Barnett Newman and, among others, Francis Bacon, were created. In these cases, religious themes were often only of minor importance, although the triptych’s tripartite structure still functions as an emphatic pathos formula. As such, the triptych of the 20th century was dedicated to equally serious topics that moved humanity in political as well as social regards.