Karl Hofer, The contemplative woman, 1936

Karl Hofer, The contemplative woman, 1936, oil on canvas, 100 x 70 cm
Karl Hofer, The contemplative woman, 1936, oil on canvas, 100 x 70 cm

Even though it was created in 1936, from today's perspective "Die Sinnende" [The contemplative woman] appears as if the huge dislocations of the following decade were already being depicted in the portrait of this young woman: not only through the turban-like head covering and the background resembling a dilapidated house wall, both of which are reminiscent of the women who helped clear the rubble after the war, but also, above all, through the inward-looking, hopeless contemplative gaze, which seems to reflect the breakdown of society, the catastrophe of war and the trauma of Auschwitz.

This notion of humanity was not in keeping with 1936, the year in which the Olympic Games were staged in Berlin amid jingoistic propaganda campaigns throughout Nazi Germany. Karl Hofer had already been dismissed from his position as professor at the University of Fine Arts in Berlin in 1934; more than 300 of his works were later removed from public collections for being 'degenerate'.

Hofer's artistic focus was on the development of universal, timeless forms. He therefore erased all traces of individuality from his portraits, preferring instead clear compositions and tectonic structures. Hofer remained true to his classic-idealistic notion of the figure into the 1950s, continuing, as an artistic loner, to focus on his image of humankind.