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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Modern (19th century-1945) Painting
(Aschaffenburg, Germany, May 6, 1880 - June 15, 1938, Frauenkirch, Switzerland)
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a painter, printmaker, and sculptor. He is a notable figure of Expressionism and one of the founders of Die Brücke (The Bridge), an artists’ collective that rejected academic art in favor of a radical new approach that bridged the past and the future. Art critics frequently compared Kirchner’s works to those of Edvard Munch and Henri Matisse.
Kirchner was born in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, to a middle-class family, and they moved around frequently during his childhood. In 1901, he began studying architecture at Königliche Technische Hochschule in Dresden, where he was exposed to drawing, painting, and art history. During his time there, Kirchner founded Die Brücke, alongside Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. His works of this period combine older mediums, particularly woodcut printmaking, with contemporary subject matter, such as nudes in casual poses, and are characterized by simplified, flattened shapes rendered in bold colors.
The high point in Kirchner’s artistic career occurred after Die Brücke disbanded in 1913. Kirchner moved to Berlin and began focusing on the dynamism and energy of Berlin streets, which he described with vigorous, rapid brushstrokes. Following the advent of the First World War, Kirchner volunteered to be a military driver; shortly after, he suffered a mental breakdown and was discharged. His subject matter began focusing more specifically on the alienation and isolation that characterized Europe during the First World War. In 1937, Nazi officials confiscated and destroyed more than 600 of Kirchner’s artworks, labeling them as “degenerate” and “un-German.” This, together with the repercussions of his mental breakdown, led the artist to take his own life in 1938.
Kirchner’s work can be found in collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich.