The female figure in Barlach's oeuvre is complex and layered: joyful, even content or desperate, lost in reverie, anxious, drawn ineluctably into the realm of the supernatural. Clearly, Barlach does not shy away from addressing taboo themes such as theft, alcoholism or unwanted pregnancy.
After having studied the female anatomy as a student, nude studies rarely featured in his work after 1900. Upon returning from Russia he cultivated a more simplified form: heads appear covered, reduced to the pure essence of their statement, often with shocking clarity - as demonstrated here in "Pregnant Girl". From the possible gamut of typical attributes associated with a woman with child (eg. self-doubt, certain food cravings or aversions, nausea and insomnia), he focuses on but ONE: The burden of coming to terms with this evidently unwanted situation.
The intentionally small plinth is highly significant, yet the possibilities it affords are limited. The unrelentingly fixed gaze of the subject reflects her inner turmoil. Faced with this new reality, she has to control her conflicting range of emotions: sadness, anger, (self-) doubt, and disappointment at her lack of a partner. Nothing is to be seen here of the fecund beauty of a pregnant woman, experiencing both biological changes and the joyful anticipation of the new arrival.
The figure appears sombre, yet her pursed lips, however - in tandem with the adumbrated lower arm concealed beneath the mantle and the hand clasping together the buttonless garment – signify that she is determined to surmount the daunting challenge confronting her. Evidently, she is becoming aware of her own inner strength which makes everything appear possible. This can be gleaned directly: For even the space between the legs of the figure is filled in, reinforcing the impression of solidity and indefatigable resilience.
Towards the end of the 1920s, Barlach was to revisit this theme. His war memorial in Hamburg's Old City (Rathausmarkt/Schleusenbrücke), a high stelee, showing on the canal-facing side a pregnant woman, her face marked by suffering, staring blankly into the distance (and into an uncertain future); Cradled in her arms is a young girl seeking safety and protection, but the woman appears frozen, motionless with grief like the "Pregnant Girl": two deeply poignant visualizations of a related theme.
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