Zwischen Madonna and Mutter Courage – Exhibition visit

This exhibition is presently on at the August Macke Haus in Bonn.  There are about 60 paintings on the theme of the mother as depicted by German expressionist painters between 1905 and 1935.  The overall atmosphere of the exhibition is one of the strength of the mother-child bond, which sometimes appears as isolation from other individuals or from the wider society which can paradoxically appear to be a strength –  the bond as a foundation for relationship – and weakness – the women depicted sometimes appear  isolated with or without their child, struggling against a postwar background of poverty and insecurity.

There are many powerful images here.  Two I have focused on are oil paintings by Heinrich Campendonk (Familienbild, around 1914) and Hannah Höch (Frau und Saturn, 1922).  The link to the online info on the exhibition is here.

For copyright reasons, the images are not included in the blog.

Although these images are very different, there a number of parallels.  In both paintings, the mother and child are depicted using warm reds.  Behind both women is a male character who presents conflict / a perceived threat in some way.  In the Höch painting, the threat is in the form of Saturn, who can represent many things, amongst them separations, such as that represented by the cutting of the umbilical cord.  Saturn can also represent misfortunes, obstacles and barriers (1).  We do not know why Höch chose to include Saturn here but, because she included his name within the painting itself (top left side of painting), we can conclude that the identity of Saturn is important here.  In Campendonk’s painting, the figure behind the mother is partly obscured.  What he see is his face and the
alm of one hand.  Whereas Saturn is depicted in black, Campendonk has used complementary colour to surround the mother.  The father’s hand echoes that of the mother but whereas hers is directed caringly towards her child, his is suspended in mid-air and could represent many things – an impending slap, resignation or depair, a wave goodbye.  Both images portray the paradoxical strength and fragility of the relationship between mother and child and both convey the mother’s vulnerability in different ways, despite a sense of a materially comfortable life in both images, one painted around the beginning of the first world war and the other painted four years after its end.  Images painted within Germany but within a society that perceived the world very differently within a period of only eight years.

The link to this exhibition, which includes both images is here:

at least until the end of the exhibition on 29th January 2012.   I have not posted the images as one of them – the Höch – is in private possession.  The Campendonk normally resides in the Kunsthalle, Bielefeld.  


1.  Chevalier, J, Gneerbrant, A. & Buchanan-Brown, J. (1996) The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols.  Penguin Books.   

2. Zwischen Madonna und Mutter Courage – Zur Darstellung der Mutter in der Kunst von. 1905 bis 1935.  Exhibition.


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