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Study of Skeleton Playing a Clarinet for the Painting

Felix Nussbaum (German, 1904-1944)

Study of Skeleton Playing a Clarinet for the Painting "Death Triumphant", c. 1944

  • Pencil, gouache, and chalk on paper
  • 10 7/8 x 8 13/16 in. (27.7 x 22.4 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Mildred and George Weissman Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Communal Fund Gift, 1985-140
  • © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

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Study of Skeleton Playing a Clarinet for the Painting "Death Triumphant"

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Study of Skeleton Playing a Clarinet for the Painting "Death Triumphant"

CLOSE LOOKING / VISUAL ANALYSIS:

  • What is the first thing you notice about the figure?

  • Do you think the figure is alive or dead? Support your answer.

  • What adjectives would you use to describe the attitude of this figure? What do you think this figure is feeling? What about the drawing makes you say that?

  • What is the mood of the drawing? How do the colors contribute to the mood?

  • If you could hear this drawing, what would it sound like?




FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION:

After giving students ample opportunity to examine this drawing, lead them in a discussion of related topics and themes:

  • Felix Nussbaum drew this picture in 1944 while hiding from the Nazis. He had already escaped from a work camp and was later murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. How does this information affect your response to the work?

  • Why would this skeleton be playing a horn? For whom is he playing? If this figure could speak, what do you think he would say?

  • Nussbaum produced art throughout his time in the camps and in hiding. Why do you think he put so much energy into his art when his life was so endangered? In what way can art be considered a form of resistance? What purposes can art serve?

  • In 1942, Nussbaum said, "If I perish, do not let my pictures die; show them to the public." Why did he want his pictures to survive? What insights does this statement shed on Nussbaum's art?

  • How is this drawing a kind of historical document? How do you think it represents Nussbaum's experiences of the time? How is it different from other types of historical documents of the period?

  • Can you think of other examples of spiritual resistance?




RESEARCH TOPICS / CONTENT CONNECTIONS:

  • Concentration Camps
  • Spiritual Resistance
  • Drawing