Lot 64
  • 64

ERNST LUDWIG KIRCHNER | Portrait Otto Mueller (Gercken 722; Dube H251)

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
  • Portrait Otto Mueller (Gercken 722; Dube H251)
  • image: 365 by 305mm 14 1/8 by 12in
  • sheet: 575 by 434mm 22 5/8 by 17in
The rare woodcut printed from a single block in the manner of monotype, in black, brown and blue, 1915, Gercken's third state (of four), signed in pencil, inscribed 'Eigendruck', Gercken records five known impressions of this subject printed in colours and five printed in black, on wove paper, framed


With full margins, some short tears and occasional nicks at sheet edges (the longest measuring approx. 2cm), the verso with a small stain in the lower margin showing through recto, two small pale water stains in the upper margin, minor light-staining and slight foxing, framed.
"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

Other impressions printed in colours are in the collections of the British Museum in London, and the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich.  We are grateful to Professor Dr. Günther Gercken for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

‘Kirchner’s creative gift brooked no repetition, but forced him to create anew from the inexhaustible mine of his changing experience.’ -A. DUBE-HEYNIG, Kirchner: Graphic work, p. 50

Late in 1915, Kirchner spent a prolific few months in Berlin on a leave of absence from the army. Created during this time, Portrait Otto Mueller, appears emotionally charged. It suggests the artist’s close personal relationship with the subject forged during their time together in the artist’s group the Brücke, and reflects Kirchner’s then-fragile state of health and mind. Having been called up to the army in 1915, Kirchner suffered a breakdown due to the oppressive experience of military service and an overwhelming fear that his identity had been lost upon being forced into uniform. Ultimately this experience lead to a prolonged stay in various sanitariums culminating in his tragic suicide in 1937.

With the founding of the Brücke, Kirchner, like his fellow German Expressionists, turned to the the graphic arts and in particular the woodcut as their medium of choice. Rejecting modernity, they enjoyed the ‘primitive’ aesthetic and provocatively exaggerated features facilitated by the medium.

As Dube-Heynig describes: ‘The woodcut became an independent, robust, almost cuneiform manifestation in their hands. Colour and monochrome were now of equal standing, depending one upon the other. A strong creative force searching for the best means of expression chooses the most suitable medium.’ -ibid., pp. 21-22

Kirchner, in particular, mastered the printed medium creating small, hand-printed editions, often achieving unique and unorthodox effects while imbuing his prints with the essence of immediate creative impulse.

Printed from a single woodblock inked by the artist using a paint-brush rather than the typical roller, the portrait of Mueller is positioned halfway between a woodcut and a monotype - this technique is believed to be unique to Kirchner. The nature of the portrait’s creation means that each impression is uniquely inked, producing individual qualities and effects. This print constitutes an exceptional example of Kirchner’s skill as a printmaker, and as one of only five known impressions printed in colours, is incredibly rare to auction.

In this impression, the subject’s feline features appear to protrude from the block’s flat surface, with jagged lines of rich blue, black and maroon coming together to present a remarkable likeness to his great friend. The lavish, painterly depth of the ink appears to float above the surface of the paper, adding to the illusion of movement and three-dimensionality that the Brücke artists sought throughout their careers.