Ernst Ludwig Kirchner the ideological inspirer of expressionism

Self-Portrait as a Soldier
Self-Portrait as a Soldier.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner the great German artist of the early twentieth century, the ideological inspirer of one of the most famous trends in art expressionism. The work of Ludwig Kirchner, in contrast to impressionism, which took the viewer into the world of dreams, literally made him realize reality and look at the surrounding reality without embellishment.

Ludwig Kirchner reacted sharply to industrialization, urbanization with its alienation of people from each other and “loneliness in the crowd. The artist tries to understand the place of man in the modern world. In his works, inner anxiety is expressed after all, a society that has lost spirituality is doomed to death.

Ludwig Kirchner believed that powerful forces, both creative and destructive, live under the cover of Western civilization. He hoped that the work of expressionist artists would help direct them in the right direction.

Interior, 1915
Interior, 1915.

Biography of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Ludwig Kirchner began to study architecture at the Dresden Technical School. The future genius decided to devote himself entirely to painting.

Ludwig Kirchner, together with his fellow students founded the “Bridge” group, which, in fact, began the formation of German expressionism. Ludwig Kirchner became the ideologist of the movement: he found his way and boldly entered the unknown road. Later, Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke and Alexei von Jawlensky joined the union.

Companions gathered in an old butcher’s shop, which served them as a workshop, organized traveling exhibitions in many German cities, and in the summer went to the Moritzburg lakes. They created fervently, with a twinkle, inspired by closeness to nature, love, youth and complete freedom. Naturally, the local police were not enthusiastic about the cheerful predecessors of the hippies, who did not hesitate to go naked and draw nude models, and closely watched their bohemian life.

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Early works

The early work of the artist bears the imprint of the influence of the primitive art of the wild peoples of Africa and Polynesia, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and the French group “Nabis”, who actively worked with color. The special interest experienced in the wood engravings of Albrecht Dürer runs like a red thread through all the work of the painter. The genius managed to revive the ancient national art in his own unique style, through truncated lines and dynamic compositions.

Berlin Street Scene
Berlin Street Scene.

At that time there were already Fauvists, but Ludwig Kirchner and the “Mostovites” did not yet know about them. Why did the works of masters who worked independently of each other often turn out to be surprisingly similar? Perhaps the development of art is an objective process, like the development of science? After all, Dada artists also came to similar results, being on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1911, Ludwig Kirchner settled in Berlin, where he met the Schilling sisters. At first he was carried away by the youngest, Gerda, but then he gave his heart to Erna, who became a model for a genius, a muse and just a beloved wife until the end of her days.

A difficult, stressful life in a big city could not but affect his work: painting became more aggressive, tougher. New characters appear on the works: women of easy virtue, swindlers, dudes and other dregs of bourgeois society. When looking at the paintings of that period, the inevitability of the coming war is somehow immediately felt, the world appears before us so unsightly and gloomy.

Circus Rider, 1914
Circus Rider, 1914.

The idyll is over, the time has come for “real” expressionism.

In 1913, the peak year in the formation of the art of the new century, after the “Chronicle” written by Ludwig Kirchner, the “Bridge” falls apart. According to the comrades-in-arms, the leader of the movement overpedaled his role in the union, “pulling the blanket over himself.” From now on, everyone went their own way In 1914, Ludwig Kirchner went to the front as a volunteer. After only a couple of months from the beginning of the “bloody carnival” he earns a nervous breakdown and ends up in a psychiatric hospital. Trying to overcome mental disorder, the artist became addicted to morphine. In 1915, Ludwig Kirchner, having taken a leave of absence due to a lung disease, undergoes a rehabilitation course in a sanatorium. In 1917 he moved to Switzerland, where he painted mountain landscapes.

Dance School
Dance School.
Gradually, life took its course.

The health of the master recovered, the surrounding beauty had a beneficial effect on his nerves. In 1919-1920, the artist worked fruitfully, exhibitions of his paintings were successfully held in Germany and Switzerland. The mood gradually changes, becomes more peaceful, calm. The hopeless horror of the war was replaced by serene views, peaceful city sketches, friendly faces.

Dancer, 1914
Dancer, 1914.

In 1925, Ludwig Kirchner traveled for a long time in Germany. And in 1930 became a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts. In 1933 the painter was at the zenith of his fame. But the Nazis who came to power in Germany declare the artist a “degenerate from art” and withdraw 639 of his paintings from museum collections.

Hitler himself selected 25 paintings for the infamous exhibition of “degenerate art”, which the Fuhrer considered an “insult to the nation”. We can only guess what the person who devoted his life to the revival of the national spirit in art felt then. The traumatic impact of these events led to suicide on June 15, 1938, the artist shot himself with a gun in the courtyard of his house. He was buried at the Waldfriedhof cemetery in Davos.

Dancing Couple
Dancing Couple.
The most famous paintings by Ludwig Kirchner

The paintings of Ludwig Kirchner are a kind of milestones by which you can trace the creative path of a genius and understand the changes in his worldview. All works are extremely sincere, in them the artist is not afraid to be cheerful, mischievous or suffering, angry and even frightened:

  • “Girl under a Japanese Umbrella” (1909) a kind of response to the “Blue Nude” by Henri Matisse. The figures in the background are a reference to the German colony of Palau.
  • “City Park in Schöneberg” (1913) the space is “raised”, the observer looks at the surface from above, but the figures and houses are given at eye level.
  • “Potsdamer Platz” (1914) the picture conveys the artist’s impressions of the pre-war German capital. The nervousness of perception is enhanced by distorted proportions, broken silhouettes.
  • “Self-portrait in a soldier’s uniform” (1915) a crippled right hand as a symbol indicating the impossibility of the coexistence of art and war.
  • “Winter landscape in the moonlight” (1919) the picture is written in a very recognizable manner, for which Ludwig Kirchner is considered one of the best landscape painters of the first half of the twentieth century.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Belle Alliance Square in Berlin
The Belle Alliance Square in Berlin.

Faithful Erna survived the artist for 7 years and managed to catch the end of the war. Immediately after the death of Ludwig Kirchner, his widow was glad to sell her husband’s work for a penny. And in 2006, the painting “Street Scene in Berlin” went under the hammer at Christie’s auction for 38.1 million dollars! It was bought by the New York “perfume king” Ronald Lauder for the Neue Gallery.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Graef and friend
Graef and friend.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Portrait of Gerda
Portrait of Gerda.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Garden Cafe
The Garden Cafe.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Tram and Rail
Tram and Rail.
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