Journal Article

Imagining the Absent Dead: Rituals of Bereavement and the Place of the War Dead in German Women's Art during the First World War

Claudia Siebrecht

in German History

Volume 29, issue 2, pages 202-223
Published in print June 2011 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online June 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gerhis/ghr039
Imagining the Absent Dead: Rituals of Bereavement and the Place of the War Dead in German Women's Art during the First World War

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Drawing on women's visual responses to the First World War, this article examines female mourning in wartime Germany. The unprecedented death toll on the battlefronts, military burial practices and the physical distance from the remains of the war dead disrupted traditional rituals of bereavement, hindered closure and compounded women's grief on the home front. In response to these novel circumstances, a number of female artists used their images to reimagine funerary customs, overcome the separation from the fallen and express acute emotional distress. This article analyses three images produced during the conflict by the artists Katharina Heise, Martha Schrag and Sella Hasse, and places their work within the civilian experience of bereavement in war. By depicting the pain of loss, female artists contested the historical tradition of proud female mourning in German society and countered wartime codes of conduct that prohibited the public display of emotional pain in response to soldiers’ deaths. As a largely overlooked body of sources, women's art adds to our understanding of the tensions in wartime cultures of mourning that emerged between 1914 and 1918.

Keywords: World War I; art; wartime death; burial practices; mourning; home front; Katharina Heise; Martha Schrag; Sella Hasse

Journal Article.  10989 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: European History

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