After dabbling for a while in Cubism and Futurism, German painter Christian Schad (1894 – 1982) reached artistic maturity in his 30s, when he associated himself with the New Objectivity art movement. The movement rejected the Expressionists’ romantic idealism and emphasis on emotional experience, and insisted on depicting life in a straightforward, realistic way.
During this period, Christian Schad specialized in portraits, one of them being the Portrait of Dr. Haustein, completed in 1928. Doctor Hans Haustein was a left-leaning Jewish dermatologist, with a strong interest in the epidemiology and treatment of syphilis. His salon was famous for gathering the elite of Berlin in the 1920s, a place where politicians, scientists, artists, writers and beautiful women would meet and socialize. It was at the salon where Schad and Haustein met, and the artist later described the place as known for its “extreme intellectual and erotic licence, typical of 1920s Berlin”.
The portrait depicts the upper half of Dr. Haustein, presumably seated, wearing a black suit, with a black-and-white tie and a white shirt. He is holding an intriguing, metallic, medical instrument against his chest, probably as a reference to his profession. With his head slightly tilted to his right, and his hands grasped lightly together, the dermatologist is striking a reflective, casual pose. Yet the painting itself is very unsettling, with the large shadow of a smoking woman’s profile looming on the wall behind him. Her hand looks almost like a claw.
Intuiting the doctor’s weakness, Schad painted a very ominous portrait. The woman’s shadow was Sonja’s, a model with whom Haustein was in love at the time. Tired of Haustein’s infidelities, his wife, Friedel, later committed suicide. Haustein himself took his own life after being arrested in 1933 by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police.