Ernst Kirchner The Most Influential Modern Artist That You Have Probably Never Heard Of
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1880 – 1938, was a German expressionist painter and printmaker. He was one of the founders of the artists group Die Brücke or "The Bridge",which was a group of artists that helped establish and build the foundation of Expressionism in 20th-century art.
Die Brücke (The Bridge) was a group of German expressionist artists formed in Dresden in 1905, after which the Brücke Museum in Berlin was named. Founding members were Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Later members were Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller. The seminal group had a major impact on the evolution of modern art in the 20th century and the creation of expressionism.
Die Brücke is sometimes compared to the Fauves. Both movements shared interests in primitivist art. Both shared an interest in the expressing of extreme emotion through high-keyed color that was very often non-naturalistic. Both movements employed a drawing technique that was crude, and both groups shared an antipathy to complete abstraction. The Die Brücke artists' emotionally agitated paintings of city streets and sexually charged events transpiring in country settings make their French counterparts, the Fauves, seem tame by comparison.
Self Portrait by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
In 1898 Kirchner was impressed by the graphic art of the German late Gothic artists, especially Albrecht Dürer, and Edvard Munch both of whom influenced Kirchner’s art. Despite access to the Jugendstil movement and contemporary artists Kirchner chose to simplify his forms and brighten his colors.
Kirchner studied architecture in Dresden, Germany from 1901-1905. But art was his true passion and in 1905 he founded Die Brücke with Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Other artists, including Emil Nolde, subsequently joined the group. For Kirchner, art was a translation of inner conflict into visual terms. He cited the emotive work of Vincent van Gogh and Munch as artistic role models. (see note above)
Kirchner’s use of color and his respect for the paintings of Henri Matisse and the Fauves in France may be seen in Girl under Japanese Umbrella (1906) and Artist and His Model (1907), Much of Kirchner’s work of this period exhibits his preoccupation with malevolence and eroticism. In Street, Berlin (1907), the curvy forms of the fashionable women on the Street focus the sensuousness of the women despite their solemn dress.
Kirchner’s artwork focused upon the human form for a time. During this period, he was obsessed with nudes. His studies of the nude, are often explicitly erotic and very Intense.
Illustration for 'Peter Schlemihl' by Adalbert von Chamisso
In 1911 the members of Die Brücke moved to Berlin, where Kirchner produced masterful woodcuts for Der Sturm, Germany’s leading avant-garde periodical before World War I. His illustrations for Adelbert von Chamisso’s novel Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (1915; “Peter Schlemihl’s Wonderful Story”) and for the poem Umbra Vitae (1924) by the Expressionist poet Georg Heym are considered to be among the finest engravings of the 20th century.
Umbra Vitae (1924) by the
Expressionist poet Georg Heym
At the outbreak of World War, I in 1914, Kirchner joined the German army, He found life in uniform rigid and constraining and he suffered a nervous breakdown and returned home.
A Berlin Street Scene by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Even while he was ill and during his recover, Kirchner continued to produce many works; paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture. He sought help at a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps. The cold, dry air in Davos, Switzerland, was considered therapeutic. In 1917, he moved permanently to Davos, Switzerland, where he stopped painting nudes and focused on landscapes and personalities as he started included images of rural life and the surrounding Alps. Through the 1920s major exhibitions of his work were held in Berlin, Frankfurt, Dresden, and other cities. In 1931, he was made a member of the Prussian Academy of Art.
Landscape Under a Winter Moon by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
In 1932 Kirchner was labeled a degenerate artist by the Nazis. Kirchner was asked to resign from the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1933. In 1937, more than 600 of his works were confiscated from German museums and were either destroyed or sold. Kirchner was called un-German by the Nazis. His works were removed, some were destroyed. His artwork was cleared out of Germany and in his own country Kirchner felt his work would not be known. That was a devastating blow to Kirchner.
In March of 1938, the Nazis invaded nearby Austria, and Kirchner felt besieged. As an historian recounted "The Nazis were 12 miles away from Davos," … "Kirchner is sitting there in his mountain house with his paintings and his drawings, his prints, his sculpture and so forth, and he got more and more this idea, 'My God, they're 12 miles away and they've destroyed my art in Germany and now they're coming for me.” Kirchner thought it would be better to destroy his own artwork rather than let the Nazis do it so he destroyed it himself.
View of the Basil and the Rhine by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
He tried to persuade his long-time girlfriend, Erna, to commit suicide with him but she refused, and could not stop him. Kirchner died from a self-inflicted gunshot, he was just 58 years old.
The first public exhibition of Kirchner's work in the United States was at the Armory Show of 1913, the first comprehensive exhibition of modern art in America. U.S. museum acquisitions of Kirchner's work began in 1921 and steadily increased through the next four decades. Kirchner was given his first one-man museum show in the U.S. at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1937. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, held a monographic exhibition of Kirchner's art in 1992, based on works in the collections of the Gallery and its donors, and then held a major international loan exhibition of Kirchner's art in 2003.