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Ernst Barlach

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Ernst Barlach
Modern (19th century-1945) Sculpture
(Wedel, Germany, January 2, 1870 - October 24, 1938, Rostock, Germany)

Ernst Barlach was an acclaimed, yet controversial, sculptor and printmaker. Born in Wedel, Germany on January 2, 1870, he studied sculpture at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Hamburg from 1888-9 and at the Dresden Akademie from 1891-5. He taught briefly at the Staatliche Fachschulen für Keramik in Höhr-Grenzhausen, then moved to Berlin around 1905. From early in his career, Barlach was drawn to the poor; a trip to Russia in 1906 to see his brother served as a catalyst for his work. The peasants on the Russian Steppes captivated Barlach; the austerity of their dress juxtaposed with the panoramic landscape instilled an almost mystical spirituality that he strove to capture. Barlach received a lucrative contract from the patron Paul Cassirer in 1907, allowing him to experiment more with his art. He tried several media for sculpting, but settled on wood as his favorite, because he could exploit its inherent coarseness for his own artistic ends. He also turned to drama, writing a number of plays beginning in 1912. Cassirer published the plays and exhibited Barlach's sculpture and prints. The first major exhibition was in 1917, and an exhibition of his sculpture was held at Cassirer's gallery in 1926. Barlach also received a number of commissions for public monuments and architecture. Notably, he produced sculptures for the city halls of Hamburg and Altona. In 1927, he was commissioned for a war memorial for Güstrow Cathedral, and in 1930, he was commissioned to sculpt a group of sixteen figures for the facade of the Katharinenkirche in Lübeck. (Due to intimidation from right-wing radicals, Barlach would only complete three figures before turning the project over to Gerhard Marcks.) Throughout his career, Barlach received a good deal of praise for his work; in 1909 he won the Villa Romana Prize; in 1925, he was made an honorary member of the Munich Akademie der Bildenden Künste; and in 1933, he received the prestigious Prussian Order of Merit. Despite the accolades, Barlach came under fire as the Nazis rose to power in 1932. Over the next few years, many of his public monuments were removed or destroyed, and he was subjected to increasing harassment. Barlach dubbed 1937 "The Wicked Year." In that year, he was forced to resign from the Academy, and from July to August, many of his confiscated works were shown by the Nazis in the notorious "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art) exhibition. Ernst Barlach died in despair in Rostock, Germany on October 24, 1938. It was not until after the fall of the Nazi regime that his work would return to public favor.


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