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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Tension Of The Modern Times

20th century

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Tension Of The Modern Times

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a German expressionist painter and printmaker and one of the founders of the artists group Die Brücke or “The Bridge”. It was a key group leading to the foundation of Expressionism in 20th-century art. In 1933, his work was branded as “degenerate” by the Nazis and in 1937, over 600 of his works were sold or destroyed. In 1938, he committed suicide by gunshot.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self-portrait in studio, 1913/15, New print from glass negative, 13 × 18 cm © Kirchner Museum Davos,

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self-portrait in studio, 1913/15, New print from glass negative, 13 × 18 cm © Kirchner Museum Davos

But before all that horrible things happened Kirchner produced a lot of pieces of art. His expressionistic works represented a powerful reaction against the boring, and in this times so outdated Impressionism that was dominant in German painting when he first emerged. For Kirchner, Impressionist was nothing more than the symbol of the staid civility of bourgeois life. But what’s interesting, he reworked the typical impressionist motif – ballerinas.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Six Dancers, 1911, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Six Dancers, 1911, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: © 1996–2016 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond


Kirchner always denied that he was influenced by other artists but of course he had his favorite painters. Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch were clearly important in shaping his style. In 1898 Kirchner was impressed by the graphic art of the German late Gothic artists, especially Albrecht Dürer, whose influence on Kirchner was lifelong. Also fellow artists of Die Brücke were particularly significant in directing his intense and raw palette, encouraging him to use flat areas of unbroken, often unmixed color and simplified forms. It was only intensified when he discovered African and Polynesian art in 1904.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Sand Hills at Grünau, 1917-18, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Sand Hills at Grünau, 1917-18, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: © 1996–2016 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Much of Kirchner’s work shows his interest with malevolence and eroticism. Kirchner loved the modern vibe of the early years of 20th century, wild rhythm of crowded cities, fashionable women. During the months leading up to the Great War, following the breakup of the Die Brücke group in 1913, Kirchner painted numerous Strassenszenen, street scenes which earned him deserved recognition as an Expressionist painter of the city. He was particularly fascinated by circus artistes, cabaret dancers and prostitutes, whose existence on the fringes of society belonged, in Nietzschian terms, to the same world as the visual arts.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Two Streetwalkers, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Two Streetwalkers, 1910s, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: © 1996–2016 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

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