Early self-portrait, c. 1947, oil on hardboard, 45 x 37 cm

In the period from 1946 to 1953, Ruth Baumgarte used the supreme discipline of oil painting to realize important first portraits and landscapes. With this self-portrait, she added an independent, female version to the long-standing tradition of artist portraits in the studio. 

Wearing a beret, a cigarette in her mouth, and with a brush and palette in hands, she confidently faces the viewer in a white painter’s smock and the striped sweater she often wore at the time. Her figure fills the picture format almost completely as a bust portrait. On the wall behind her is a stretched cord from which a few puppets are hanging. Having thus set the picture diagonal in the upper left, it continues to the lower right via the cigarette dangling saucily from her lips and then swings in a zigzag movement to the paintbrush and the painter’s palette, which is seemingly within reach at the edge of the picture. In this virtuoso way, the artist intertwines her new role as a mother, indicated by the children’s puppets, with her profession as a young painter, and makes it dynamically clear that she is ready to compete in both fields.

In the bohemian look of her self-portrayal, and in the Post-Impressionist technique of her pictorial composition, she borrows from the achievements of French avant-garde painting. Red, blue, and yellow—the primary colors of painting—are found in pure form on her palette. Although she would later abandon oil painting for some time in favor of watercolor painting and do work that was more planar, the bright, clear color scheme continued to determine her work in the future.