Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Artist Portrait

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Born 1880. Died 1938.

Works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner at Sotheby's

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Biography

Painter and graphic artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was born in 1880 in Aschaffenberg, Germany. He studied architecture at the Dresden Technische Hochschule (Technical High School), but during his time there decided to devote himself to fine art rather than architecture. By 1905, Kirchner, along with fellow artist friends Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, founded Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), an artistic group that sought to “bridge” traditional and classical modes of art making and the avant-garde. Beyond this group, Kirchner found inspiration in the number of post-impressionist exhibitions that were held in Dresden, where he was exposed to the work of such artists as Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch—both of whom he would cite as inspirational to the development of his own practice—as well as exhibitions on art from Africa and Oceania.

Die Brücke relocated to Berlin, Germany, in 1911, as did Kirchner himself. The following year, works by Die Brücke artists were included in the second Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) exhibition by artist Franz Marc, thus linking the two formidable groups. In 1913, however, Kirchner published Chronik de Brücke (Brücke Chronicle), a rather philosophical text centered around ideas of freedom of identity from canon, and ultimately the publication heralded the end of Die Brücke. The same year, Kirchner exhibited widely, including his first solo shows at the Museum Folkwang Hagen and the Galerie Gurlitt, both in Berlin, as well as at the seminal Armory Show in New York.

After the start of World War I, Kirchner joined the army, but was ultimately discharged following a mental and physical breakdown in 1915. He subsequently relocated to Switzerland, but suffered from recurring bouts of depression. His work from this period often centers on motifs of humanity at one with nature, freed from the constraints of civilization. In 1937, his work was included in the Nazi organized exhibition of “degenerate art,” spurring further mental distress, and the following year he committed suicide.

A guiding force within German Expressionism, Kirchner’s work has found ardent followers both in Europe and America. His oeuvre reflects a specific, pre-war moment in German culture, and has served as a source of inspiration for subsequent generations of German artists such as Georg Baselitz. Kirchner’s work may be found at a number of leading art institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

A guiding force within German Expressionism, Kirchner’s work has found ardent followers both in Europe and America. His oeuvre reflects a specific, pre-war moment in German culture, and has served as a source of inspiration for subsequent generations of German artists such as Georg Baselitz. Kirchner’s work may be found at a number of leading art institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

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Artist Image: Credit: Album / Alamy Stock Photo