The World of Work in Art

Oil Drilling (Industrialization I), 1964, watercolor and pencil on ivory watercolor paper, 30,8 x 22,8 cm

Against the traditional role model

Ruth Baumgarte is the only post-war artist who has continuously dealt with the iron industry in West Germany for almost 20 years. Her artistic interest in the world of work became apparent during her art studies. But in the 1950s it received decisive impetus. The single mother of one son married the Bielefeld entrepreneur Hans Baumgarte for the second time in 1952 and had two children with him. The patchwork family also includes her husband's two sons from her first marriage. As an emancipated artist, it was not easy for Ruth Baumgarte to assert herself against the traditional role model of mother and entrepreneur's wife in the conservative times at the time. But she now gets to know the world of industrial production in her husband's ironworks, which was inspiring and completely new to her.

Art in times of the economic miracle

At the Baumgarte ironworks, during the time of the so-called economic miracle, she found a wealth of inspiration for the motifs of her industrial cycle. For the annual calendar published by Eisenwerk Baumgarte, she suggests to her husband motifs from the inner workings of the plant and shows places where no artist, especially no woman artist, in West Germany had set foot at that time: the assembly halls with the workbenches. Precise observation skills and her artistic talent are the basis for depicting her environment.

In her drawings she freely selects her models and draws them “directly from life” (sur le motif). Natural scenes of heavy physical labor in the machine halls and processing facilities are created, with which the artist makes a significant contribution to illustration in the 20th century and to the motif of work in art and “occupies an absolutely special position in the art of West Germany” (Eckhart J. Gillen).

To the oeuvre

Ship loading (Industrialization II), 1964, watercolor, gouache and pencil on ivory paper, 30,5 x 21,2 cm

Industrialization as a motif in art

Ruth Baumgarte benefits from her wealth of experience through a wide range of commissioned work with illustrations for magazines and book publishers, but also from her sure feel for color. Ruth Baumgarte repeatedly uses the luminosity of gouache and watercolor paint impressively and with expressive color, making the figures shine against intense red, blue or orange backgrounds. The artist does not use local colors, but rather the coloring of the picture objects is based on an internal, expressively charged pictorial logic.

On the one hand, her motifs impressively and positively represent technical progress and industrial development; on the other hand, the enormous workload becomes clear. Here too, Ruth Baumgarte demonstrates a keen sense of the negative consequences of uninhibited industrialization and, through her art, became a critical observer of the progressive environmental destruction as early as the 1960s. The artist therefore plays an important role in art in times of upheaval.

The focus, as elsewhere in her oeuvre, is always on the people and their activities, the producers of the boilers and foundry products.

In her calendar page series from 1964, she already hints at the destructive effects of modern industrialization, emphasizes the importance of the working world in her art and, through the depiction of people of color, refers to the African continent, which has been the artist's great interest since the end of the 1950s applies.

The Industrial Cycle - an impressive example of art in the machine age - is part of her illustrative work, which includes over 2,200 watercolors and hand drawings.

Exhibition “Colour Rush at the Cauldron”