Life or Theatre?

Life or Theatre?
Charlotte Salomon
Price: £
  • Hardback
7 Sep 2017
  • Art, Design & Photography
Available from:

“This is my whole life,” Charlotte Salomon said when she gave her French doctor and friend the enormous suitcase containing her life’s work for safe-keeping. Life? Or theatre? is the result of months of restless work in a small room in a hostel during which Charlotte Salomon appealed to everything inside her: her perfect visual memory, her insight into family and friends, her education at the Art Academy in Berlin and, most of all, the inspiration of her short but intense love for her stepmother’s singing teacher.

That is how Charlotte created this singular work of art, a graphic novel avant la lettre, consisting of 781 gouaches and hundreds of drawings—a mixture of paintings, texts, and musical annotations—which together tell the story of a family between the First World War and 1940. In more than one gouache, influences of George Grosz and Modigliani are recognizable, while others are foretastes of the contemporary graphic novel. The work shimmers with beauty and precision.

This timeless masterpiece, now published for the first time in a complete edition including several recently discovered gouaches, is truly a unique work by an artist whose life inspired not only David Foenkinos’s internationally bestselling novel Charlotte, but also a movie, a documentary, an opera and a ballet.


‘It is a work of mesmerizing power and astonishing ambition’ The New Yorker 

‘[This] edition is remarkable… a feat of extraordinary care.. a beautiful reproduction’ Jewish Renaissance

Comprised of hundreds of gouaches, drawings, texts and musical annotations candidly detailing the life of Salomon, who was murdered in Auschwitz…An intimate visual diary’ Jewish Telegraph

‘A sumptuous boxed edition of her opus… for the first time in reproduction, the tiniest details of her sometimes-crowded images can clearly be seen… the very luxuriousness of the edition underscores the extent to which Salomon has, after arguably too long a delay, entered the ranks of major twentieth-century artists’ New York Review of Books

‘A haunting and beautiful volume… a beguiling mix of strangeness, and touches of wry, bleak humour’ Design Eye

'A deeply personal series… a totally unique means of making art, a therapeutic process’ ArtNet

‘A heart-stoppingly beautiful boxed edition… the blend of text, image and music in the series is unmatched before or since… it is a singular pleasure to lose oneself in Salomon’s witty, ironic, tragic, and technically accomplished masterwork’ Royal Academy Magazine

‘A landmark publication in English’ London Review of Books

'An extraordinary, multi-faceted work… stunningly realised… both terrifying and sublime…  this beautiful book deserves to be appreciated by as wide an audience as possible… an exceptional, unique and polyphonic achievement’ New Welsh Review

‘Its publication is an act of faith, really, at a time when publishers — or anyone else in the arts — rarely take such risks... This work — whose pages are almost the same dimensions as the originals — is like a mesmerizing evening at the theater, with the added advantage that you can go back to it again and again’ The Arts Fuse

‘The ensemble reads as a virtuoso graphic novel striking with mordant irony, an astonishing mixture of tragedy and comedy’ Literary Hub

‘A work of almost 800 sequential paintings, Life? or Theater? is arguably one of our most important graphic narratives, and yet until recently few people have had the opportunity to read it in full . . . Now The Overlook Press has produced a gorgeous English-language edition of the complete series that will make the work more widely accessible than it has ever been’ Jared Gardner, Public Books