Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a German Expressionist painter and printmaker who helped found the influential Dresden-based art collective Die Brücke. He is known for his glowing, angular images of feather-boaed prostitutes promenading on German streets.Read More
Kirchner's family came to Frankfurt in 1886 and then to Chemnitz four years later when his father was made director of a paper factory. In his 20s, Kirchner studied architecture in Dresden at Königliche Technische Hochschule (1901–1905). In 1903 Kirchner moved to Munich to study pictorial art, and saw a Neo-Impressionist exhibition. The following year he made his first woodcut and began oil painting.
Die Brücke focused on urban figures in urban settings, emotional immediacy using intense colour, distorted body parts, and angular forms. Its members greatly admired Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, and Vincent van Gogh, and disliked the influence of Impressionism. Their first exhibition was in 1906 and based on the female nude.
Examples of Kirchner's painting from this period include Marzella (1909–1910), Standing Nude with Hat (1910), Street, Berlin (1913), Self-Portrait as a Soldier (1915), and Königstein Station (1916).
Kirchner's woodcuts include The Married Couple Müller (c.1919), Girls from Fehmarn (Fehmarn Mädchen) (c. 1910), and Slender Girl in Front of an Open Door (c. 1917). Two examples of his lithographs are Am Pirnaischen Platz, Dresden (1910) and Three Officers at Lunch (Kohnstamm Sanatorium) (1916). He also made etchings, usually self-portraits.
Kirchner later moved to Berlin in 1911 where he was very productive. However he enlisted in the Germany army in 1915, had a series of breakdowns, and was discharged. Kirchner developed problems with tuberculosis in his lungs, and moved to sanatoriums in Switzerland for this and intense nervousness. His paintings now focused on villages on the sides of the alps or nestled in mountain valleys, and the colour became purer and flat.
He was thought to have died by suicide in 1938, because of the large quality of his works confiscated or destroyed by the Nazis the previous year, pain from intestinal inflammation, and his deteriorating mental state due to drug addiction. However, because of the positioning of the bullet wounds in his head, the idea that he took his own life has been contested.
Later Kirchner paintings made in Switzerland include Davos in Summer (1925) and Sertig Valley in Autumn (1925).
Kirchner has been the subject of many posthumous solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Kirchner and Nolde: Expressionism. Colonialism, Stedelijk, Amsterdam (2021); Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Neue Galerie, New York (2020); Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Retrospective, Städel Museum, Frankfurt (2010); and Kirchner and the Berlin Street, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2008).
Group exhibitions include New Expression in Germany and Austria, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2021); The Three Expressionists, Beck and Eggeling International Fine Art, Dusseldorf (2019); 1913: Die Brücke and Berlin, Die Brücke Museum, Berlin (2018); and German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011).
Kirchner's work is held in major collections throughout the world, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Kirchner Museum Davos, Switzerland; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; Städel Museum, Frankfurt.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2022