Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Rose-Carol Washton Long

Committee Members

Rosemarie Haag Bletter

John Maciuika

Diane Radycki

Subject Categories

Modern Art and Architecture


Art historians and cultural critics have long debated the aesthetic and political implications of the stylistic shift in Germany from pre-war experimentations with abstraction and expressive distortion to more clear-cut figuration in their paintings during the years following World War I. They have questioned whether this shift represents a regressive return to tradition or a new artistic direction and if it should be associated with a reactionary or progressive political stance. This dissertation broadens our understanding of German interwar realism, commonly referred to as Neue Sachlichkeit, by examining representations of mothers, a popular theme in the realist painting of the Weimar period (1919-1933). Through a series of case studies I explore how artists, as well as art critics and collectors, working from a range of political positions, used the image of the mother, employing various strategies of realism, to engage with the social and political conflicts of the tumultuous Weimar years.

Focusing first on leftist figures I examine how socially-engaged artists, including Käthe Kollwitz and Rudolf Schlichter, produced simplistically realistic images of proletarian mothers as propaganda for the German Communist Party’s campaign to legalize abortion. I then study the veristic realism of representations of working-class mothers by Otto Dix, one of the most (in)famous painters of the Weimar period, in an attempt to resolve the controversy about whether his minute attention to detail and exaggerated color typical of the German Old Masters relates to a need to expose the social evils of the Weimar years. The next chapter focuses on Georg Schrimpf’s maternal images and how his employment of an idealizing and classicizing naturalism grounded in the Italianate pastoral tradition gives form to his utopian, anarcho-socialist beliefs. In the final chapter I consider how members of the Weimar art world affiliated with the political right also championed artistic realism by examining the posthumous reception of Paula-Modersohn Becker. As I discuss, numerous right-wing art historians, critics and collectors appropriated her motherhood works to support various nationalist and conservative agendas. By demonstrating the political and stylistic complexity of German interwar painting, my dissertation challenges previous attempts to interpret Neue Sachlichkeit simplistically as either right/reactionary or left/liberal while also opening up new understandings of some of the movement’s most important members.