Lot 9
  • 9

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

1,400,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
  • signed E L Kirchner (lower right); signed E L Kirchner and titled Die Sägemühle on the reverse

  • oil on canvas


Walter Bareiss, Greenwich, Conneticut
Fine Arts Associates, New York (by 1957)
Acquired from the above by the late owner on 24th July 1958


Frankfurt, Galerie Ludwig Schames, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1916, no. 22
New York, Fine Arts Associates, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1957, no. 12, illustrated in the catalogue
New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans Collects: A Selection of Works of Art owned by New Orleanians, 1971-72, no. 19, illustrated in the catalogue
New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art, German and Austrian Expressionism, 1975-76, no. 30, illustrated in the catalogue
New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Art for a New Building, 1993, illustrated in the catalogue


Donald E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968, no. 448, illustrated p. 332
New Orleans Museum of Art, Handbook of the Collection, New Orleans, 1995, illustrated p. 79

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1916, Die Sägemühle in Königstein is a wonderfully vivid landscape from the height of the artist's Expressionist period. Although this was a time of smaller artistic output, the intensity and quality of Kirchner's work was considerably increased, producing some of his most significant works. As evident in the present work, and initiated during the Brücke years in Dresden, the group's members - Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Pechstein, and Kirchner himself - became interested in the wonders of the natural world, unfettered by the restraints of civilisation, as the way towards a healthy body and mind.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Kirchner volunteered for service as a driver in an artillery regiment, but by 1915 he was sent on sick leave because of a lung infection and a general physical and nervous condition, which was worsened by his fear of forced military conscription. Three times between 1915 and 1916 Kirchner travelled from Berlin to the Kohnstamm sanatorium in Königstein near Frankfurt.

In 1916 Kirchner wrote: 'The heaviest burden of all is the pressure of the war and the increasing superficiality. It gives me incessantly the impression of a bloody carnival. I feel as though the outcome is in the air and everything is topsy-turvy...All the same, I keep on trying to get some order in my thoughts and to create a picture of the age out of confusion, which is after all my function' (quoted in Wolf-Dieter Dube, The Expressionists, London, 1987, p. 46).

Die Sägemühle in Königstein depicts a sawmill in fiery red and bright blues amidst the lush greens, aubergine and ochre tones of the trees and hills in the background. The dynamic rendition of the woman in the foreground is emphasised by the vibrant ice blue horizontal brushstrokes leading out of the hut towards the figure. The present work displays a wonderful sense of form and an expressive composition which Kirchner developed during this period. Furthermore the rhythmical handling of the motif creates a flowing intimacy between figure and landscape, resulting in an overall harmonious pictorial structure. 

In contrast to the frenzy of city life, the rural surroundings of Königstein allowed Kirchner to achieve a more contemplative lifestyle that he and the other Brücke artists had often longed for. With the intention 'to give pictorial form to contemporary life' (D. E. Gordon, op. cit., p. 22) Kirchner simultaneously achieved an existential unity between artistic idealism and artistic reality.

Commenting on the significance of Kirchner's works in Königstein, Donald E. Gordon remarked: 'The environment in Königstein stimulated a new attitude towards landscape, which gradually assumed signal importance in Kirchner's later work. For Königstein, located in the Taunus Mountains just northwest of Frankfurt, offered hilly vistas with high horizons occasionally interrupted by dominant peaks. (...) In the small town of Königstein and in the intimate countryside of the Taunus region Kirchner must have been surprised to find in reality those sharply dropping ground-planes and vertically shifting vantage points which he had constructed from imagination in earlier years. (...) Colour also is often more naturalistic, with landscape colours of green, blue, and yellow more prominent' (D. E. Gordon, op. cit., pp. 105-106).

The present work was exhibited in Kirchner's first one-man show at the legendary Galerie Ludwig Schames in Frankfurt in 1916. Through Schames' one-man show exhibitions of the artist's work, Kirchner's paintings found their first avid large-scale private collectors, Dr. Carl Hagemann, and especially Ludwig & Rosi Fischer, whose purchase of severel dozen paintings between 1916 and 1918-1919 helped considerably to see Kirchner through the war years.

Die Sägemühle in Königstein combines the artist's physical artistic approach of the Brücke years with his later sensual and organic style, culminating in this expressive, emotionally charged painting.