Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

b. 1880, Aschaffenburg (Lower Bavaria)
d. 1938, Davos/Friedenheim, Switzerland
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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was born into a middle-class family in May 1880. Bowing to his family’s wishes, he enrolled at the Technische Hochschule (Technical College) in Dresden to study architecture in 1901. Kirchner spent the winter semester of 1903-04 in Munich at the Technische Hochschule, where he studied with Hermann Obrist. In the spring of 1904, Kirchner returned to Dresden to complete his studies where he met Erich Heckel. In June of 1905, Kirchner and Heckel along with fellow architecture students Fritz Bleyl and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff formed the Künstlergruppe Brücke (Artists’ Group Bridge). Kirchner received his architectural degree that year but decided to focus his attention on painting.

Kirchner’s handsome features and strong ego belied a remarkable artistic talent. He was destined to become one of Germany’s leading proponents of the modern movement. Kirchner acknowledged the influence of the work of Albrecht Dürer but denied any knowledge of the work of the French Fauves (a claim now disputed by scholars). He and all the Brücke artists admired art from the South Pacific and Africa they had seen in the ethnographic museums in Dresden and Berlin. From 1908-11, his most important personal relationship was with Doris (Dodo) Grosse. She was the subject of many of his works until he moved to Berlin in 1911.

In Berlin, he did not find commercial success but his work matured. His brushstrokes became more dynamic and his subject was the urban scene: streetwalkers, dance halls, circus scenes, and he painted the famous series of street scenes. He met the sisters Erna and Gerda Schilling, and Erna remained his companion for the rest of his life. Kirchner wrote the Chronik der KG Brücke (Chronicle of the Artists’ Group Brücke), a history of the group and its aims, which was rejected by the other members, as he had taken credit for all the group’s innovations. The group dissolved in 1913.

In 1915, Kirchner volunteered for service and spent two months with the field artillery. After a nervous collapse he was released from duty. He was initially treated in Germany and moved to Davos, Switzerland in 1917 to continue his recuperation. In 1919, he began “restoring,” altering, and often ante-dating his earlier canvases to appear more innovative. His work was targeted by the National Socialists; over 600 items were removed from German museums and over 30 pieces were included in the traveling Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition that began in Munich in 1937. He committed suicide at his home in Frauenkirch, near Davos, just one month after his fifty-eighth birthday in June 1938.


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