Else Meidner drew her Death
and the Maiden in circa 1918-25, while Henry Moore’s Woman Seated in the Underground was created 24 to 17 years later in
Meidner was a female German Expressionist, Henry Moore was British.
drawings depict female figures and have are limited to black and white, due to
the usage of paper and different black media, but both share a common medium in
watercolour. Meidner combined this with charcoal and graphite, while Moore
chose gouache, ink and crayon.
the following, it will be further explored how both pieces were created either
in the aftermath or during a World War and show the effects they had on people,
specifically women. The aim is to achieve a deeper understanding of the influence
gender and trauma take on the artists creative expression.
the entire space in Meidner’s Death of a
Maiden is taken up by two figures, shown from the chest upwards, in an
embrace while both are facing towards the viewer. Whereas the seemingly female
figure in the foreground rests under the other figure’s hand with her eyes
closed, the other figure is wearing a large hood and both hand and face are
figures are not hyper naturalistic but still more so than Henry Moore’s figures
in Woman Seated in the Underground. Here,
on a support measuring 483 x 381 mm a single, presumably female, figure is in
the centre of the image as a knee-length portrait. She
appears to be seated in a tunnel that stretches out behind her. On the upper
right-hand side, one can see what might be more people seated along the round
drawings show female figures.
Meidner’s work shows two figures, but no background, besides some darker
smudges; Moore’s piece appears to show a long tunnel, on the side of which the
figure is seated. Vague outlines in white oil pastel suggest an endless que of
people trailing along the opposite tunnel wall.
both, Meidner’s and Moor’s works, the female subject is not alone in the frame
and yet, they are the protagonists of the drawings. The focus lies on the
individual female figure as a representation of women during and after a war.
The emotional toll war takes on a persona mind is undeniable and both artists’
works speak of the psychological affects and aftermath on the female mind.
Moore’s case, the woman is quite literarlly “backed” by a large group, which
makes her stand out even more. She is in the foreground; therefore, all focus
lies on her as she represents women during second World War Brittan.
from the title of Women seated in the
Underground, the assumption lies near that Moore’s drawing is set in the
London underground which was used as bomb shelter during the German Blitzkrieg attacks on London in 1940 (The Art of World War Two: A Culture Show
has been a quiet day for us, but it won’t be a quiet night.” (London Can Take It (1940))
went underground to seek shelter; however, they could still hear the bombs
tube shelters may have promised safety, but were by no means a pleasant place
to spend the night. Alf Morris, a survivor of the Blitzkrieg attacks on London
was a child when he was forced to seek shelter in the underground like so many
others. He describes it as “… claustrophobic. The air in there was thick.” (The Art of World War Two: A Culture Show
Women seated in the Underground the
tunnel appears gloomy and dark. It is poorly lit and one can only make out
rough outlines of the people in the background done in white oil pastel, making
them look like “piles of … bones”. (The
Art of World War Two: A Culture Show Special. (2010))
after looking at the drawing more closely, the tunnel seems more like a mass
grave, out of which the people will emerge in the morning, unsure of what they
will find. Unsure, if they have been made homeless overnight and unsure of who
has died in the nightly attacks. Finding themselves in what the 1940
documentary London Can Take It
euphemistically calls a “strange new world” (London Can Take It (1940)).
psychological strain this must have put on people can be seen in the women in
Moore’s drawing. Her crouched figure, nervously clutching her hands in an act
of what could easily be fear and panic. (Tate, (n.d.) Henry Moore OM, CH Woman Seated in the Underground 1941.) Many women
will have found themselves in very similar situations to the one depicted.
abstract line makes it furthermore impossible to make out details, generalising
her features and her presence even further. She becomes anonymous and
interchangeable. She could be anyone and yet, she is everyone. Her emotions
make her a symbol of the fear, insecurity and yet the resolution of the British
people during World War II (Tate, (n.d.) Henry Moore OM, CH Woman Seated
in the Underground 1941.).
on the other hand, has a more naturalistic style. The viewer is able to make
out the subject’s face. And yet, even though her features are clearly visible,
she could be anyone. The drawing is not the portrait of a specific person, but
rather of a personification of the people, women and economy of a whole country.
the fact that Meidner drew “The Death and the Maiden” from 1918-25 during her
teens (Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am
Main, (n.d.) Biography Else Meidner.), the assumption lies near that the
scene is set in the Weimar Republic. Following the destruction and despair left
behind by World War one, the Weimar republic was a fragile and futile attempt
to reform a German state lasting only from 1919 to Hitler rise to, or more
accurately seizure of power in 1933 (Crockett 1999, p.7).
fragility and uncertainty is reflected in the drawing via the line and
symbolism Meidner falls back upon.
terms of symbolism, the large skeleton like figure holding the girl in a close
embrace plays an important role. By itself, like the title suggest, it can be
seen as a representation of death (Tate, (n.d.) Else Meidner Death and the
Maiden c.1918–25), which is
often portrayed as a skeleton with a black cloak and a Synge. The motif of death
embracing a young girl becomes a metaphor for the misery and despair; the loss
that society went through after World War one. It is a reminder of the
proximity of death, as well as “transience and
mortality” (Tate, (n.d.) Else
Meidner Death and the Maiden c.1918–25).
It is surely no coincidence that
Meidner, who was rather opposite to her husband Ludwig Meidner, whom she in
return described in a letter to Joseph Paul Hodin as “shy,
cautious, reserved and quiet” (Hodin, Aus
den Erinnerungen von Else Meidner, Darmstadt 1979, p. 23; found on Arts in
Exile (n.d.)) chose a female subject
and motif of The Death and the Maiden. A
strong woman herself, only a woman or young girl seem s suitable to represent
the German people.
A large part of Death and the Maiden is filled by quick,
dense, black charcoal strokes making the skeleton-like figures cloak. Like a
cocoon it surrounds the female figure while the death like figure holds her in
an embrace. The stark contrast and rough lines make the drawing more dramatic
and dynamic. They give an additional urgency to the imagery. The style of
line is rather rough, thanks to the use of charcoal, and stark black and white
is hard to say, which artistic period this drawing belongs in, since even if
her husband was part of the Expressionist Group Die Brücke (Barron1988, p. 6), the art of the Weimar republic was,
like David Crockett describes it in German post-expressionism: the art of
the great disorder 1918-1924 “a hodgepodge of trends and intentions” (German post-expressionism:
the art of the great disorder 1918-1924. 1999, p.7) and a
constant exchange between artist and styles was the norm.
to Meidner, Moore’s lines are not black on white but reversed, white on a black
background. This creates a rather intense, vigorous line. Additionally, perspective
plays an important part in Moore’s work. The way in which the tunnel stretches
out behind the subject makes it seem sheer endless and creates an illusion of
depth, adding to the dramatic impression the scene leaves on the audience.
Death and the
the other hand, brings the subject closer to the viewer in comparison to
Moore’s Woman seated in the Underground;
perspective is secondary to distance. This closeness works for Death and the Maiden, because it makes
the image more haunting and more powerful. In Moore’s case, distance is key, as
it underlines the sheer size of the tunnel and the mass of people, which again
leads the scene to be more striking.
both works are similar in colour and are kept solely to black and white; both are
made with watercolour, next to other media.
notable aspect to add to the analysis of the two drawings is the purpose these
two drawings had at the time and continue to fulfil to this day.
Rose from the Rhode Island School of Design, once called drawing the “embodied
form of memory” (Drawing Conversation. (2013)) and
both works are a way to document and memorise the mentality of a nation at a
point in history. They are timeless, in the sense that they still are able to
educate and inform the audience to this day.
in contrast to Meidner, who created Death
and the Maiden while taking drawing lessons from her later husband Ludwig
Meidner and attending several art schools (Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am Main, (n.d.) Biography Else Meidner.), Moore was hired by the War
Artists Advisory Committee, which was a government institution, and
commissioned to make war art. His official job as an artist lay in the artistic
documentation of World War Two Brittan (The
Art of World War Two: A Culture Show Special. (2010)). Usually such art was
meant and used by the government to encourage the general public and underline
the heroicness of war (The Art of World
War Two: A Culture Show Special. (2010)). This does not really seem to
apply to Moore’s haunting portrait. He himself went to the tube shelters in
order to draw what he saw and create his famous Shelter Drawings Series, which Woman
seated in the Underground is part of. (The
Art of World War Two: A Culture Show Special. (2010)). Meidner’s work is
not based on a real-life scene and therefore, in this aspect, less naturalistic
than Moore’s work. However, this does by no means mean that the two drawing are
anything but highly realistic in the way they expose the mentality and psyche
of women during war.
these thoughts into account, one does wonder, if perhaps other factors play
into the perception and study of the two works. For example, the artists
themselves and that one piece was drawn by a female artist, while the other one
was a man portraying a woman.
could argue, that both, during the 1920 Weimar Germany and 1940 Brittan, the
role of women I society seemed to shift.
stated in Visions of the “Neue Frau”:
Women and the Visual Arts in Weimar Germany, women were on the one hand
expected to be good housewives, but on the other hand more likely to find work (Meskimmon,
West et al. 1995, p1). This suggests a certain degree of independence for women
in Weimar Germany and is part of the idea of the Neue Frau (New Woman).
women also played an important role in World War Two Brittan. They worked on
farms as so called “Land Girls” (The Art
of World War Two: A Culture Show Special. (2010)) and as female munitions
workers like in Dame Laura Knight’s Ruby
Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring from 1943.
jobs made women vital workers during the war.
the question remains, weather a female and a male artist would portray a
woman’s despair differently.
comparing the two pieces based on the artists themselves, two more aspects come
first one being that Meidner was primarily a painter (Arts in Exile (n.d.) Else Meidner, Self-Portrait, 1938.) while Moore was a sculptor as well (Henry Moore Foundation (n.d.) About Henry Moore.). As such, drawing would be a prior
step towards the final end product, the sculpture. Even if Moore never planned
on turning his Shelter Drawings into
sculptures, the curve in his line and the contrast in line and shadow seem to
underline the three dimensionality and physicality of the subject.
Death and the Maiden contains just as
much contrast, the outlines and lines within the drawing are much less clear,
which could also be credited to her choice of medium, chalk.
second aspect would be the artists’ nationalities. Moore was a British artist
documenting British people in Brittan during an attack on Brittan led by the
Nazis. Meanwhile, Meidner was a German born Jewish artist portraying the
aftereffects of the First World War on the German People. Even if Meidner later
emigrated to and died in London after she left Germany in 1939 just a few weeks
before the Second World War broke out (Jüdisches
Museum Frankfurt am Main, (n.d.) Biography
Else Meidner.), she still
looked at the suffering of the German people from a German Point of view.
Both, Meidner and Moore were not
objective in their portrayal, but efficient in communicating the mindset and
subjective experience of a World War.
the end, Else Meidner’s Death and the
Maiden and Henry Moore’s Women in the
Underground are in a way very similar. In both drawings, the subjects seem
to be representatives of women in their respected countries and time periods, showcasing
the emotional toll the two World Wars took on women in Europe.
might differ greatly in execution and style, but both works underline the
suffering and trauma people are in during and after War. They make the viewer
question the legitimacy and necessity of war, if it comes at the price of