London, Barbicon Art Gallery, A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde Art and the Great War, 1994, no. 135, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Berlin, Berlinische Galerie & Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Berlin Moskau, 1900-1950, 1995-96, no. II/9
Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Die Epoche der Moderne - Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, 1997, no. 25, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Inaugural Exhibition, 1997-98, n.n.
Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 2000, n.n.
Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Der Postdamer Platz. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner und der Untergang Preussens, 2001, no. 89, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Las Vegas, Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, Art Through the Ages: Masterpieces of Painting from Titian to Picasso, 2003, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art & London, Royal Academy of Arts, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: The Dresden and Berlin Years, 2003, no. 157, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Bonn, Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, The Guggenheim Collection, 2006-07, no. 45, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, 1914! The Avant-Garde and the War, 2009, no. 120, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Kandinsky and Expressionist Painting Before World War I, 2009-10, n.n.
Frankfurt, Städel Museum, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Retrospective, 2010, no. 75, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918, 2011, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue
Berlin, Brücke-Museum, Weltenbruch: die Künstler der Brücke im Ersten Weltkrieg, 1914-1918, 2014, no. 72, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Davos, Kirchner Museum, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: der Künstler als Fotograf, 2015-16, no. 105, illustrated in the catalogue
Franz Roh, "Entartete" Kunst. Kunstbarbarei im Dritten Reich, Hannover, 1962, p. 438
Donald E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968, no. 434, illustrated p. 329
Herte Hesse-Frielinghaus, “Ernst Ludwig Kirchner und das Museum Folkwang Hagen: Briefe von ihm, an und über ihn” in Westfalen, Munster, 1974, no. I-80
Richard Hamann & Jost Hermand, Expressionismus, Berlin, 1975, illustrated p. 37
Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Painting and Sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art, 1929-1967, New York, 1977, illustrated p. 69 (titled Artillerymen)
Johannes von Geymüller, Die Gemälde des 20. Jahrhunderts Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf Malerei, vol. III, p. 371
Expressionisten, Die Avantgarde in Deutschland 1905-1920 (exhibition catalogue), Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie und Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, 1986, illustrated p. 136
Donald E. Gordon, Expressionism - Art and Idea, New Haven & London, 1987, illustrated p. 155
Walter Lepori, Zauberberge: zu Ernst Ludwig Kirchners Davoser Bergbildern, Zurich, 1988, illustrated p. 14
Carla Schulz-Hoffmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Gemälde 1908-1920, Munich, 1991, illustrated in color p. 34
Thomas Röske, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Tanz zwischen den Frauen: eine Kunst-Monographie, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1993, illustrated p. 18
Annegret Jürgens-Kirchhoff, Schreckensbilder Krieg und Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1993, illustrated p. 75
Lucius Grisebach, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: 1880-1938, Cologne, 1995, illustrated in color p. 129
Hyang-Sook Kim, Die Frauendarstellungen im Werk von Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: verborgene Selbstbekenntnisse des Malers, Marburg, 2002, illustrated p. 90
Peter Springer, Hand and Head: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Self-portrait as Soldier, Berkeley, 2002, illustrated in color p. 172
Christine E. Stauffer, ed., Festschrift für Eberhard W. Kornfeld zum 80. Geburtstag, Bern, 2003, illustrated in color p. 255
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Mountain Life, The Early Years in Davos 1917-1926 (exhibition catalogue), Kunstmuseum, Basel, 2003, illustrated p. 64
Ashley Bassie, Expressionism, London, 2005, illustrated in color p. 153
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner in Berlin (exhibition catalogue), Brücke Museum, Berlin, 2008, no. 241, illustrated in color n.p.
Hans Delfs, Der gesamte Briefwechsel: "die absolute Wahrheit, so wie ich sie fühle". 4, Briefe von 1901 bis 1923: Nachträge und Register, Zurich, 2010, no. 264, 275 & 3300
Gregor Langfeld, Deutsche Kunst in New York: Vermittler, Kunstsammler, Ausstellungsmacher, 1904-1957, Berlin, 2011, illustrated in color p. 154
Vibrant Metropolis, Idyllic Nature: Kirchner—The Berlin Years (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus, Zurich, 2017, illustrated in color p. 67
Having himself been subjected to the de-humanizing discipline imparted by his superiors, in painting Das Soldatenbad Kirchner reflects on the anguish he felt during his enlistment and the frightening anonymity of life as a solider. In the thin, emaciated bodies—some accented with boldly hatched ribs—crushed together in the limited space, the assembly of soldiers behaves as if entirely alone in spite of their close physical proximity. No gesture or eye contact is exchanged between them, further isolating them from one another. By distorting the perspectival lines of the composition, particularly in the upper register, Kirchner successful communicates the cramped physical space of the composition, providing an impression of the claustrophobic environment of the shower hall as he experienced it.
In a letter to Gustave Schiefler from December 9, 1915 Kirchner describes his emotional state shortly after returning to Berlin: “I’m no longer fit for heavy military work and plan to enter a sanatorium in a few days to heal my nerves and my lungs. I have become half mad, and physical human feelings are still foreign to me even today… war takes hold of me more and more. You now see almost nothing but masks, no faces any longer, it would be a good thing and necessary if an end were to come soon” (quoted in ibid., p. 64). The alienation, despair and loss of identity which consumed Kirchner during his time in the military was exacerbated by the uncertainty and overwhelming vulnerability of the possibility of being re-conscripted which continued to weigh heavily upon him.
Since his early Die Brücke years, the human body fascinated Kirchner. Like Max Pechstein, Erich Heckel and other group members, the simple, expressive rendering of shapes and forms of African and other indigenous sculptures drew his attention. The aesthetic of the geometric modeling of tribal masks was adopted by artists in Paris at the turn of the century, most notably Picasso in his ground-breaking 1907 masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and incorporated into their own aesthetics. In the foreground of
Das Soldatenbad one of the soldiers appears, crouched down, to be stoking the fire that heats the shower water. He, as well as the left most standing figure in the composition both appear to have been directly influenced by the poses in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. By the time he was painting Das Soldatenbad in 1915, Kirchner’s primary concern was the representation of the human form in its most nascent, uninhibited state. The mask-like faces of the soldiers, nudity, and angular gestures in Das Soldatenbad reveal the artist’s preference for spontaneous, unmediated depictions of the body, divorced from the rigorous constraints of academic painting.
Despite his commitment to the avant-garde however, Kirchner did not abandon the Western canon, instead deploying references to canonical artworks with rhetorical, almost ironic, intent. In Das Soldatenbad the compressed spatial arrangement of the figures evokes that used in Roman frieze reliefs, thereby linking his painting to an age-old meditation on the tribulations of war. By selecting the setting of Das Soldatenbad within the context of bathing, Kirchner has also tied the work to the grand series of bathers so crucial to the development of twentieth-century art. The ground-breaking works of Cézanne addressing bathers would have lasting effects within the pantheon of representation through the solidity of his figures and the distortion of perspective. Expanded further in the bold palette and innovative compositions of the bathers of Edgar Degas, so admired by post-Impressionists van Gogh and Gaugin, Kirchner takes up the subject with his characteristic affecting realism. Later German artists, particularly Georg Baselitz, absorbed the expressive painterly realism which was so fundamental to the strength of Kirchner’s art in a revitalized movement in the 1970s referred to as Neo-Expressionism. Baselitz overtly referenced Kirchner and his Die Brücke colleagues in his seminal composition Der Brückechor through the emphasis of both color and gesture, executed with characteristically dramatic brushwork.
As one of the few depictions Kirchner made to document his experience during his brief time as an artilleryman Das Soldatenbad has been widely exhibited and included in numerous publications to discuss this crucial episode. Following his breakdown which directly resulted from this experience, Kirchner never fully recovered. His life was overshadowed by mental crisis, feelings of isolation, despair and poor health. Retreating to the mountains of Switzerland, Kirchner would eventually commit suicide in 1938, as the specter of yet another world war loomed over Europe.
Kirchner's Das Soldatenbad came to be owned by Jewish dealer and collector Alfred Flectheim shortly after it was completed. As the Nazi party rose to power in Germany, Flectheim, who acquired the Das Soldatenbad for a second time in 1930, fled to London, where he would die in 1937. Most of his collection, including the present work, remained in the custody of his niece Rosi Hulisch in Berlin. Das Soldatenbad was acquired in 1938 by Kurt Feldhäusser, a member of the Nazi party. Upon Feldhäusser's death in 1945, the ownership of his collection passed to his mother, who brought the work to the United States and consigned it to the Weyhe Gallery in New York in 1949.
Das Soldatenbad was then purchased by American philanthropist and collector Morton D. May of Saint Louis in 1952. May amassed one of the largest collections of German Expressionist art in America and donated over one thousand works from his collection to various institutions; Das Soldatenbad was donated to The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1956. In an exchange in 1988, the work became part of the collection of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. In 2018 Das Soldatenbad was restituted to the heirs of Alfred Flechtheim by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation after an extensive examination of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the painting's history.
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