Artist in Focus - Ernst Ludwig Kirchner



One of the founding artists of the group Die Brücke or "The Bridge", Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a German expressionist painter and printmaker.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was born in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria. His parents were of Prussian descent and his mother was a descendant of the Huguenots, a fact to which Kirchner often referred. Although Kirchner's parents encouraged his artistic career they also wanted him to complete his formal education so in 1901, he began studying architecture at the Königliche Technische Hochschule (royal technical university) of Dresden.

In 1905, Kirchner, along with Bleyl and two other architecture students, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel, founded the artists group Die Brücke ("The Bridge"). From then on, he committed himself to art. The group aimed to eschew the prevalent traditional academic style and find a new mode of artistic expression, which would form a bridge (hence the name) between the past and the present. Their group was one of the seminal ones, which in due course had a major impact on the evolution of modern art in the 20th century and created the style of Expressionism.

At the onset of the first World War in September 1914, Kirchner volunteered for military service. He was sent to Halle an der Saale to train as a driver in the reserve unit of the 75 Mansfeld Field Artillery Regiment. Kirchner's riding instructor, Professor Hans Fehr, arranged for Kirchner to be discharged after a mental breakdown. Kirchner then returned to Berlin and continued to work, until he was admitted to Dr Kohnstamm’s sanatorium in Königstein in Taunus in December 1915 where he was diagnosed with a strong dependency on Veronal and alcoholism. Kirchner overcame his illness and, although he was still dependent on morphine, his doctor was slowly decreasing his doses.

Kirchner continued to work through 1919 and 1920 as his health also rapidly improved. His reputation grew with several exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland in 1920. In 1921, there was a major display of Kirchner's work in Berlin; the reviews were favourable. In 1923, Kirchner moved to the Wildboden house, in Switzerland, which looked over Frauenkirch and the Stafelalp on one side and on the other, Davos. Kirchner used these landscapes as subjects for many of his paintings.

In 1931, he was made a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. As the Nazi party took power in Germany, it became impossible for Kirchner to sell his paintings. In 1933, he was forced to resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts. Kirchner became increasingly disturbed by the situation in Germany.

In 1937, the Degenerate Art Exhibition took place in Germany; a total of 639 works by Kirchner were taken out of museums and 25 were displayed in the exhibition. The Academy of Arts in Berlin expelled Kirchner as a member. Throughout 1938, Kirchner became increasingly upset with the situation in Germany. After Austria was annexed by Germany in the Anschluss, Kirchner became disturbed by the idea that Germany might invade Switzerland. On 15 June 1938, Kirchner took his own life by gunshot in front of his home in Frauenkirch.

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