Having married Marcella Arcangeli, the daughter of a Roman professor in 1923, Schad settled in Naples immersing himself in painting and drawing courses at the art academy. The scenery of Naples had a profound effect on the artist’s work and development of his new objectivity style, and this is most exemplified in the present work. Originally conceived in 1949 at a time of psychological and financial crises, Schad had initially intended for the work to portray his second wife, Bettina. The year 1951, however, ushered in a new and positive phase for the artist. After moving into a new studio in Willigistraße, he was armed with fresh stimuli for creativity that allowed him to revisit his early themes with renewed impetus and ingenuity. Dissatisfied with the early portrait of his wife, Schad reconceived the present work as a three-figure memento of Naples, and at once Napoli was reborn into a virtuoso display of carefully observed textures and surfaces all bringing to life the artist’s nostalgia for his time in Naples, and perhaps of his first wife Marcella - a first since the picture November in Neapel (1938).
Refashioning the image of Bettina into ‘an albino with white hair and red eyes’, Schad provides ‘a colour contrast to the two invented Neapolitan types’, consequently using Bettina as a foil against the peripheral courtesans, and thereby highlighting the Neapolitan characteristics of the œuvre (Bettina Schad, 'Bildlegende after 1982' quoted in: Thomas Ratzka, Christian Schad Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings, Cologne, 2008, vol. I, no. 175). Enticing the viewer with their direct gaze and expressive hands and adorned with heavily-clad cosmetics, the three prostitutes serve as an analogy to the popular Renaissance theme of Three Graces and Three Ages, which Schad extensively explored in Neue Sachlichkeit fashion during his time in Naples.
The introspective aspect of this Renaissance theme resonates strongly with Schad’s artistic rebirth. For him, Italy and particularly Naples epitomised a joie de vivre and vitality that markedly resounded with his own renewed vigour. His fascination with Naples stemmed from the less domesticated landscape of the town and of street-living; one that lacked a cohesive cultural patina amidst the intermingling of high and low culture. As such, against the backdrop of Napolic grandeur of culture and creativity in Napels at the time, Schad was drawn to less domesticated and organic aspects of the town, and the accompanying primal joys of human existence.
In Napoli, Schad chooses to embody this in the form of pleasure and age, moulding the three prostitutes as grotesque incarnations of the physiognomy of a specific type of attitude and imagery characteristic of the quartieri bassi. The work is imbued with a Magical Realist aura, which is heightened by the mystical colours of the work coupled by the intense red undertones present in the sitters’ skin and the central figure’s eyes. This is disrupted by the presence of the fictional rustic Neapolitan houses on the left-hand side of the work, which shatter the magical realist illusion of the three witch-like women. The work thus typifies Schad’s technique of fracturing the perfect illusion of a surface as a revelatory exploration of the difference between reality and appearance, society and art. In this case, he masterfully features Neapolitan architecture to ground his sitters and draw his viewers back to the dark Neapolitan setting.
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