Self-Portrait – Requiem for Tragedy

Thinking of this tragedy, Beļcova drew metaphorical compositions – a weeping figure with hands raised to the sky in front of a pile of skulls; a crying Madonna with a baby on her lap; a woman with a veil with her hand covering her face in despair. Some of these drawings were together in one sketchpad.

A larger page showing the scene of the massacre should be highlighted, and again a crying woman from the ghetto holding two children on her lap is pictured there. On the other side of this page is a sketch of Beļcova’s self-portrait. In it, the artist depicts herself in a headdress that reminds one of a talit (Jewish ritual cloth). The Jew from her drawings has the same cloak. The sketch shows a street and two passers-by behind the artist. This ink drawing is a painted self-portrait sketch.

Unlike the drawing, there are no other figures in the finished work; only the artist is visible on the background. In her blue headdress, she resembles the Mother of God, a resemblance deliberately created by Beļcova.

She has also drawn a self-portrait with the same cape, which, compared to the artist’s photographs of that time, shows a realistic and even a bit critically sharp self-image. In the painted self-portrait, the artist idealizes herself and portrays a much younger version.

Another important detail should be noted: her eyes are closed, and it reminds us of the image of the crying Madonna from her sketches and the woman with the veil covering her face with her hand. This painted self-portrait should be seen as a summary of all the works in the ghetto series.

Beļcova herself did not take part in the active rescue of the Jews, but she could not ignore the horrors of the Holocaust. Her response to it is an artist’s response, and the image of the grieving Mother of God embodies her compassion, suffering, and pain.

Formally, works from the ghetto series by Beļcova do not belong to the art of the Holocaust – the drawings of the Riga ghetto were made on this side of the fence, she was not a prisoner of the ghetto, but these works are not cold observations either. The artist perceived the horrors of the Holocaust as a personal tragedy.