this issue contains
>> Conversation: Laura Owens
>> Interview: Markus Schinwald
>> Images of Children from the Deutsche Bank Collection
>> Childlike Strategies

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Childhood had become, not least thanks to reformist educators such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, an autonomous phase of development. "Nature wants children to be children before they become adults," as Rousseau wrote in 1762, demanding a radically new style of rearing children to prevent society from corrupting them. Five decades later, the message of the child as a purely sensual being gifted with "sensitive reason," a synonym for the "pre-social, natural human state," had become deeply anchored in the consciousness of the artistic avant-garde.

Heinrich Hoerle, Mädchen vor Spiegel, 1930
Deutsche Bank Collection

Romanticism cherished the religious potential in this childhood ideal, pointing to the child’s proximity to infinity: "Perhaps the child that sees, in that first moment, the light of day, is wiser than all of us," as Ludwig Tieck said, while for Novalis, children were "incomprehensible higher beings." This is the point of departure from where, in the early 20th century, the Italian educator Maria Montessori began; she viewed the child as a "social Messiah." And the subject became popular once again in art, as well: in search of alternative forms of expression beyond the exhausted academic traditions, the artists surrounding the Blue Rider group, Picasso , and Paul Klee collected children’s drawings and used them for their own inspiration. Others discovered in the child’s picture a model for an original, unconventional human image.

Georg Baselitz, Hundejunge, 1967
Deutsche Bank Collection

The German Expressionists viewed this similarly to Modersohn-Becker. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, and Max Pechstein preferred child models because they were close to the ideal of the natural human being in a relatively unaffected way. Added to this, however, was the subtly erotic body language of the pubescent girls calling out to us from many Expressionist images: thus, Fränzi, who was nine during her first encounter with the painters in 1909 and whom Kirchner painted one year later as a naked Standing Child, turns up again and again later, skimpily clad or as a nude.

Norbert Bisky, alle stützen II, 2001
Deutsche Bank Collection

The New Objectivity movement of the twenties and thirties embarked on the opposite path. For them, the child’s portrait was an instrument for representing the widespread social grievances prevailing at the time. Artists such as Otto Dix and Conrad Felixmüller addressed alienation and poverty, primarily in the cities, which can be seen from the ailing condition of their little protagonists and the rags they wore. Yet the portrait eventually lost its function; the individual image became an image of a general type. The intentions of the so-called Progressives, who gathered together in Cologne and began establishing themselves across Germany from 1930 onward, corresponded to this; among them was Heinrich Hoerle, who reduced his figures to cubic forms and lent them expressionless miens, as in the Girl Before a Mirror – creating symbols of what he saw as a dehumanized world.

Marlene Dumas, Girl from a Dutch Painting, 1991
Deutsche Bank Collection

Otto Meyer-Amden (1885-1933), who lived for a long time in self-chosen isolation, developed a highly individual view. In depicting children and youths gathered into anonymous masses in his paintings and drawings, the painter was actually harking back to his own experiences at boarding school in which a ritualized daily schedule and conformity were integral parts of an unquestioned educational model. Meyer-Amden did not wish his memories to be understood as traumata; instead, the deeply religious Swiss artist was concerned with the question of how to represent the individual’s spiritual experience in the context of society. In addition, he also made drawings that seem remarkably monumental despite their small formats. One example is Meyer-Amden’s Nude Boy from 1928, whose floating body seems to refer to the perfect proportions of Antiquity.

Eberhard Havekost, Langeweile 1 und 2, 1996
Deutsche Bank Collection

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