Workers on the Roof, 1943, India ink (pen, brush) and charcoal on gray Ingres paper, washed, 56,7 x 42,3 cm

Workers on the Roof, 1943

The young artist depicted this pithy scene in pen and brush in ink on a sheet nearly 60 centimeters tall. Two men, identified as workers by their clothing, such as flat caps and baggy jacket, are in animated conversation on a roof. One of them gesticulates with a raised hand; the other, quietly smoking, his hand in his pocket, gazes at the ruins on the opposite side of the street. 

Ruth Baumgarte used India ink as a painterly means to sculpt the figure and the surrounding space. She first laid out the scene in black contours and then modeled the internal forms of an arm or back with broad strokes of the brush and pen. The gray ground and the dark gray to black used to to depict the scene contribute to the somber atmosphere of the work. 

Captured with a few brushstrokes, this expressive work in India ink takes up what at first glance appears to be an innocuous subject: the two workers. But pictorial motifs such as workers in a city destroyed by bombs under a gloomy sky were not the heroic subjects considered exemplary in the art canon of the Nazi regime. The figures of the worker, the peasant, and the soldier functioned as important pictorial subjects in the Nazi art of the time, and were depicted together with tools such as the hoe, hammer, or sickle to refer to their physical labor and to represent their respective trades. What remains unclear in Baumgarte’s drawing is whether she has assigned the workers to a particular activity, be it roofing or cleanup. One sitting, the other standing, both men are facing away from the viewer and are concerned more with themselves than with a clearly defined task. Also, the way Baumgarte has portrayed them does not follow an embellished, neoclassical image of the body, which suggests that this sheet could not have been created in the context of her lessons at the academy. She would take up the worker motif again in her illustrations starting in the 1950s (see the chapter Factory Worlds).