Lot 37
  • 37

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
  • Galgenberg in Jena
  • signed E. L. Kirchner (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 69.2 by 65cm.
  • 27 1/4 by 25 5/8 in.


Dr. Eberhard Grisebach, Jena (acquired by 1917)
Private Collection, Zurich (by descent from the above by 1943. Sold: Kornfeld & Klipstein, Bern, 27th-29th May 1964, lot 531)
Galleria La Medusa, Rome (purchased at the above sale)
Private Collection, New York (sold: Sotheby's, New York, 17th May 1978, lot 77a)
David T. Owsley, New York (purchased at the above sale)
Galerie Thomas, Munich
Acquired from the above by the present owners in 1989


Zurich, Kunsthaus, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880-1938, 1952, no. 42


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Archive, vol. II, no. 172, listed
Lothar Grisebach (ed.), Maler des Expressionismus im Briefwechsel mit Eberhard Grisebach, Hamburg, 1962, mentioned p. 64
Donald E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968, no. 444, illustrated p. 331


The canvas is unlined. There are some minor spots of retouching towards the upper left edge, visible under ultra-violet light.The painting has the artist's original dry, unvarnished surface and is in very good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although the reds are more orange in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Galgenberg in Jena is one of Kirchner's boldest landscapes, produced at the height of his most expressive period. The setting for this remarkable work was Jena, a centre for liberal culture and a hub for avant-garde thinkers, south of Berlin. In the early months of 1915 Kirchner undertook military training in Halle, where he was an 'involuntary volunteer' in an artillery regiment. The harsh regimen did not suit his physical constitution or mental condition and by October he was declared unfit for service. His subsequent repeated breakdowns were punctuated by periods of intense artistic activity. His visits to Jena produced pictures of intense expressiveness that captured a heightened awareness of his mental landscape. Galgenberg in Jena is a particularly fine example of this period. The extraordinary perspective is built out of flickering brush strokes and the autumnal trees are aflame. This extremely animated style of painting influenced a later generation of artists across Europe, including Soutine (fig. 2), whose work can be seen as having a comparable level of expressive intensity. Kirchner not only used energetic brush work but also vivid colours to push the boundaries of the conventional representation of nature.

It was in Jena that Kirchner came in contact with Professor Botho Gräf who wrote this striking statement about the artist: 'The painter looks at the world with eyes that understand hidden inner life, and only what he sees here will he hold on to in the picture. What is at stake is never the purely objective; what is at stake is always the psychic. But for him there is also nothing soulless, nothing merely a living being. Space and the simplest objects participate in this animation... Each object has a right to exist in the picture only insofar as it is a vehicle of this [psychic] relationship. The artist seeks symbols which express the psychic relations of the artist to the intrinsic essence of things. To feel this psychic relationship is to understand his pictures' (quoted in Donald E. Gordon, op. cit., pp. 25-26).

Jena may have represented a respite from the bustling metropolis of Berlin prior to the war, but the cruel events of the outside world had intruded on his place of refuge. The present work shows the artist mastering this storm, allowing its ferocity to fuel his imagination and give vigour to his art.  In his Brücke period Kirchner used landscapes to present a back-to-nature primitivism that hinted at a more enlightened, idyllic world, inflected with an erotic edge (fig. 3). The style of the present work is very much rooted in the Brücke, with similarities to the thrilling landscapes Karl Schmidt-Rottluff painted before the war (fig. 4), but carries an added psychological force. 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).

The first owner of Galgenberg in Jena was Dr. Eberhard Grisebach a Professor of Philosophy at Jena University and the Director of the Jena Art Association, who became a close friend of the artist. Donald E. Gordon included Dr. Grisebach's first impressions of Kirchner in his 1968 monograph: 'He is an agreeable unprepossessing man with coarse hands from wood-carving, which he practises with great skill. Aside from the artist's long hair, he is free of all pose; the 'Berliner Luft' stamps these artists as big city people, but they consider life there to be a piece cut out of the universe and they preserve their independence with robust strength. If Heckel gives more the impression of a tailor... then Kirchner is the true shoemaker, headstrong and angular... I would like to believe that he is the most significant of the Brücke' (quoted in D. E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968, p. 25).


Fig. 1, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Selbstporträt im Atelier, 1915, photograph, Kirchner Museum Davos

Fig. 2, Chaim Soutine, Paysage à l'âne rouge, circa 1923-1924, oil on canvas, Private Collection, Spain

Fig. 3, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Goldregenbaum; Runde Bucht, 1913, oil on canvas, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Fig. 4, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Parkweg, 1910, oil on canvas, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich