Who Was Christian Schad? 11 Facts About the German Artist

The German painter Christian Schad was one of the most important representatives of the art movement Neue Sachlichkeit.

Jul 10, 2024By Alexandra Karg, BA Art History & Literature

Artwork by Christian Schad


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 surprising facts.


1. 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 to avoid military service. With the recommendation of his doctor, he furnished a medical certificate to live in a high mountain region and then moved to Zurich, Switzerland.


2. He Co-Founded a Dada Magazine Called Sirius

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


In Zurich, Christian Schad met the author Walter Serner and the two soon became roommates. Schad supported Serner in founding the Dadaist magazine Sirius and planning various Dada campaigns. For Sirius, Schad did a portion of the graphic art and created some of the magazine’s content. That year, Schad had a front-row seat to the foundation of the Dada movement at the nightclub Cabaret Voltaire. Although Schad was involved with and privy to much of the Dadaist scene, he found little interest in it at the time, saying it was too similar to expressionism.


3. He Was a Pioneer of Artistic Abstraction

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

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Towards the end of World War I, after only a year with the Dadaists in Zurich, Christian Schad moved to Geneva where his personal Dada movement began. During 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.


4. Schad Painted a Portrait of Pope Pius XI

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


After a short stay in Munich, Schad spent several years in Italy. There, he first lived in Rome and later moved to Naples, which was more interesting for him because he found it to be “less cultural.” In Naples, he married a woman named Marcella Arcangeli, the daughter of a Roman professor. In 1924, Christian Schad was commissioned by the Vatican to paint a portrait of Pope Pius XI, seen here.


5. The Sophisticated Side of the “Golden Twenties”

Sonja by 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 in the art scene, salons, bars, and nightclubs. The people who surrounded him became his models. One of them was Sonja, who 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.


6. The Controversy of Two Girls (1928)

Details of Two Girls by Christian Schad, 1928. Source: wikiart


At this time in his life, the artist’s work also became more sexually explicit, as shown in the painting Two Girls, of two women pleasuring themselves. He later explained that it was the young woman’s slender appearance that inspired him to paint her in the act. The second woman in the background was painted without a real model.


The presentation of the two young women provoked the audience in two ways: First, there had never been a large-format picture that was as explicitly sexual as this one. 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.


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

Details from Self-Portrait by Christian Schad, left figure, 1927. Source: Tate Modern


In this Self-Portrait from 1927, Schad 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 he had seen in a stationery store. In this densely sexualized painting, the two figures seem to occupy different realities. The eyes of the figures in this piece are striking, even on the figure that is not looking toward the viewer. This quality became a hallmark of Schad’s artwork around this time.


Details from Self-Portrait by Christian Schad, right figure and flower, 1927. Source: Tate Modern


On the face of the female figure in the painting, Schad added a scar similar to the one on women he saw in Naples, known as freggio scars. According to the Tate Museum, “these markings were inscribed by men on their lovers as a sign of possession and as a warning to potential rivals.”


8. He Nearly Stopped Making Art During World War II

Christian Schad, self-portrait, 1930. Source: wikiart


During World War II, Christian Schad retreated into exile and nearly stopped painting. He was rightly met with much resistance for aligning himself with the National Socialist German Workers’ Party at the beginning of the war. Following this, 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.


9. His Work Was Never Rejected for Exhibitions

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


None of the artist’s work was ever confiscated or refused entry to an exhibition. This continued through 1930s Germany, a time when many artists were censored or disallowed, including Schad’s New Objectivity-aligned counterparts like Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Max Beckmann. 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.


10. Neue Sachlichkeit Was Associated With Magical Realism

Mexican Girl by Christian Schad, 1930. Source: wikiart


What many people don’t know is that Christian Schad’s Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity, movement was aligned with Magical Realism. Magical Realism is a term that describes artworks that combined elements of Realism with the disturbing, fantastical, dream-like, and magical. This can be seen in Mexican Girl, a 1930 piece that is reflective of the Magical Realist qualities of his work from this period.


11. In His Later Years, Christian Schad Reflected On His Early Work

Bettina by Christian Schad. Source: wikiart


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


Originally published: November 12, 2019. Last updated: July 10, 2024.

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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 TheCollector.com you will find articles by me about art and culture, especially about topics referring to the 20th century and the present.