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Portrait of Emy (work of art)

Artwork Info

28 5/16 x 25 3/4 inches (71.9 x 65.4 centimeters)


Bequest of W. R. Valentiner

Object Number
European German

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • Karl Schmidt-Rottluff created this painting of his wife, Emy Frisch, in their first year of marriage. He aimed to express how he felt about her rather than depict her realistically. The vivid colors represent Emy’s lively personality. 
  • Schmidt-Rottluff was one of the founders of German expressionism, an art movement of the early 1900s. Expressionist artists created works that showed their inner thoughts and feelings instead of making art that looked realistic. 
  • Schmidt-Rottluff was also influenced by cubism, an art movement of the 20th century. It focused on breaking up three-dimensional objects to make them look two-dimensional. 
  • Over 600 works by Schmidt-Rottluff were taken by the Nazis in the 1930s. Portrait of Emy was displayed in a “degenerate” art exhibition that was intended to mock and embarrass modern artists. 

Learn More

Artist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff painted Portrait of Emy during his first year of marriage to Emy Frisch. In this painting he transforms his wife’s face into a bold yet calm mask. The bright colors represent Emy’s lively and confident personality and the artist’s feelings about his wife.

I have no program, only the inner longing to grasp what I see and feel and to find the purest expression for it. I know I can approach these things only through art, rather than thoughts or words.” -Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

This painting shows the influence of the German expressionist and cubist art movements. Both art styles were designed to break away from the Western traditions of making realistic-looking art. Schmidt-Rottluff was one of the founders of German expressionism. In this movement, the artists used abstract shapes, bold lines, and bright colors to create art that communicated their feelings. Cubist artists often simplified a subject into geometric shapes that showed different angles of the subject all at once. Many Cubist artists were inspired by African art. In Portrait of Emy, the artist painted his wife’s face to resemble an African mask. 

Schmidt-Rottluff’s wildly colorful artworks were not appreciated by everyone. When the Nazis took control of Germany in the 1930s, they believed modern art to bedegenerateor immoral. Modern art represented the multicultural and democratic values the Nazis opposed. They stole, sold, and destroyed tens of thousands of artworks, including more than 600 paintings by Schmidt-Rottluff. The Nazis even displayed works of modern art in what they called the Degenerate Art exhibition, which was meant to insult and shame the artists. Portrait of Emy was shown in this 1937 exhibition.

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  • A painting of a woman with short hair against a bright orange background. Her face resembles a multicolored mask, and she is resting her chin on her hand. She is wearing a dark-colored shirt with a teal collar and a blue-and-yellow necklace.

    Portrait of Emy