Christian Schad: 9 Key Facts About the German Artist

The German painter Christian Schad, born in 1894, was one of the most important representatives of the art movement Neue Sachlichkeit

Nov 12, 2019By Alexandra Karg, BA Art History & Literature



Christian Schad, a pivotal figure in the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) art movement, was renowned for his hyper-realistic artistry infused with ambiguous undertones. Born in 1894, Schad’s innovative “Schadographs” left an indelible mark on the art world, and his portraits vividly captured the post-World War I urban life of Berlin and Vienna. A muse for the Dadaist group, his work offers a captivating glimpse into a transformative era in art history. Dive into the life and legacy of this German artist, and discover facts that might surprise you.


9. Christian Schad Faked Health Problems to Avoid Military Service

Christian Schad, by Franz Grainer, 1912. Source: Wikimedia Commons


When the First World War began, Schad managed to simulate a heart problem in order to avoid military service. He furnished a medical certificate with the recommendation of his doctor to live in a high mountain region, Schad moved to Zurich, Switzerland.


8. He Co-Founded a Dada Magazine Called “Sirius”

“Sirius” poster designed by Christian Schad. © Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Sirius” poster designed by Christian Schad. Source: Museum für Gestaltung Zürich


In Zurich, Christian Schad met the author Walter Serner. Schad supported Serner in founding the Dadaist magazine “Sirius” and in planning various Dada campaigns.
For “Sirius”, Schad did some of the graphic art and created some of the magazine’s content.


7. He Was a Pioneer of Artistic Abstraction

Schadography No. 11, Christian Schad, 1919 © Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg
Schadography No. 11, Christian Schad, 1919. Source: Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg

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Towards the end of World War I, Christian Schad moved to Geneva where his personal Dada movement began. In this time, he experimented with different materials. His experiments led to photograms, which were later named “Schadographs”. These were contour images produced on light-sensitive plates, similar to the so-called rayographies of Man Ray. With his Schadographs the artist attempted to turn away from realistic representation within the Dada movement.


6. Schad Painted a Portrait of Pope Pius XI

Pope Pius XI, Christian Schad, 1924 ©artnet
Pope Pius XI, Christian Schad, 1924. Source: artnet


After a short stay in Munich, Schad had spent several years in Italy. There he first lived in Rome and later moved to Naples, which was more interesting for him because it was “less cultural”, as he said. In Naples, Christian Schad was commissioned by the Vatican to paint the portrait of Pope Pius XI.


5. The Sophisticated Side of the “Golden Twenties”

Sonja, Christian Schad, 1928 ©wikiart
Sonja, Christian Schad, 1928. Source: wikiart


At this time, the artist went back to Germany and lived in Berlin. There he led a life as a dandy and moved not only in the art scene but also in salons, bars, and nightclubs.


The people who surrounded him became his models. One of them was Sonja whom he painted in 1928. This work embodied the modern woman; an urban beauty that also commands distance in her fine frosty coolness. Her big eyes stare into emptiness and reveal her inner feelings. In this period, eyes became the center of Christian Schad’s paintings.


But the artist’s work also became more and more sexually explicit as shown in the painting “Two girls” of two masturbating women. He later explained that it was the young woman’s slender appearance that inspired him to paint her masturbating. The second woman in the background he painted without a real model.

The presentation of the two young women provoked the audience in two ways: First, there had never been such an explicit sexual and large-format picture. Second, it was the gaze of the woman in the front. Her eyes do not even refer to the viewer but she seems entirely self-conscious.


4. His “Self-Portrait” Became His Most Famous Work

Self-portrait, Christian Schad, 1927 ©Tate Modern
Self-portrait, Christian Schad, 1927. Source: Tate Modern


In this self-portrait from 1927, Schad himself is dressed in a diaphanous, green-tinted garment. The artist once said that for the woman’s face in the painting, he was inspired by an unknown person whom he had seen in a stationery store.

In this densely sexualized painting, the two figures seem to occupy different realities. It is again their eyes that refer to this very special relationship.


3. He Nearly Stopped Making Art During World War II

During World War II, Christian Schad retreated into inner exile and nearly stopped painting. Instead of working as an artist, he managed a brewery and studied East Asian mysticism. In 1936, the Museum of Modern art in New York showed some of Schad’s early “Schadographs” without his knowledge.


2. His Work Was Never Rejected for Exhibitions

Schadograph 151, Christian Schad, 1977 ©Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg
Schadograph 151, Christian Schad, 1977. Source: Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg


None of the artist’s work was ever confiscated or refused into an exhibition. In 1934 he was even able to submit works to the “Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung” (Great German Art Exhibition). However, his paintings no longer possessed the style of earlier works, primarily due to the taste of his clients.


1. In His Last Years, Christian Schad Referred to His Early Work

Im Irisgarten, Christian Schad, 1968 ©wikiart
In the Iris Garden, 1968 by Christian Schad German Artist


After more than 40 years of art making, the German artist produced new photograms, which he continued to create until 1977. In the early 1970s, Schad returned to the realistic painting style of his modern period and published several graphic folders. Christian Schad died in February 1982 in the city of Stuttgart.

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By Alexandra KargBA Art History & LiteratureHey! I am Alexandra Karg. I am researching, writing and lecturing on topics in the field of art and culture. In my hometown of Berlin I completed my studies in literature and art history. Since then I have been working as a journalist and writer. Besides writing, it is my passion to read, travel and visit museums and galleries. On you will find articles by me about art and culture, especially about topics referring to the 20th century and the present.