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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

German Painter and Printmaker

Movements: Die Brücke, Expressionism

Born: May 6, 1880 - Aschaffenburg, Bavaria

Died: June 15, 1938 - near Davos, Switzerland

Important Art by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

The below artworks are the most important by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.


Nude Dancers (Nackte Tanzerinnen) (1909)

Artwork description & Analysis: This woodcut print features a group of voluptuous nude female dancers on stage. Created during the Die Brucke era, the work exemplifies the energetic atmosphere of a meeting in Kirchner's studio, a recurrent scene in his pictures. In an attempt to revive the traditional printmaking, Kirchner created expressive, dynamic black lines by aggressively carving away the woodblock; the large areas of light and dark create an ambiguous sense of spatial depth on a two dimensional surface. Kirchner renders a balance between the two extremes (light and dark, bold and delicate) to create a harmonious composition, allowing the eye to sweep across the picture plane. The conscious decision to leave white areas unrefined, making the process of carving visible, is a rejection of conventional academic teaching, a philosophy typified by Die Brucke.

Woodcut print - Museum of Modern Art, New York


Marzella (1909-1910)

Artwork description & Analysis: Around the time this picture was painted Kirchner was spending time around the Moritzberg lakes, and the girl depicted is the daughter of a circus artiste's widow that he met there. Emblematic of his Die Brucke phase, Marzella is a provocative depiction of a young, pre-pubescent girl. The youth of the figure coupled with the intense gaze and heavily made-up face give the appearance of uncanny maturity. Unnatural colors and self-conscious body language add to the unease in the composition. The painting is an example of a technique of rapid sketching used by members of Die Brucke, who believed this process allowed them to capture the "soul" of the subject. The picture is also indicative of the influence of Edvard Munch on Kirchner's work, since the composition appears to be based on Munch's Puberty (1892).

Oil on canvas


Deutsch: Nollendorfplatz (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: Deutsch: Nollendorfplatz reveals Kirchner's shift in subject matter from the female nude to depictions of the metropolis. Here, the perspective is skewed, a clear rejection of his previous study of architecture. The quick, gestural use of line creates a sense of immediacy and speed within the piece, capturing the essence of a busy German city. The use of clashing blues and yellows to depict the cityscape is typical of Kirchner's style during the Die Brucke years, though the distorted imagery of the city may also have been inspired by an exhibition of Italian Futurist art that he saw in the year that this was painted.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art


Street, Berlin (1913)

Artwork description & Analysis: The vigorously painted Street, Berlin explores the figure of the city prostitute: chic streetwalkers who have angular, mask-like faces. The two women proudly walk down the busy, tilted street of cloaked men with more sullen expressions. Street, Berlin accentuates the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes' haughty fashion. The luxury and anxious energy in painting also serve as a commentary on a pre-World War I German culture, as Kirchner believed increasing political tensions further detached urban individuals from society. The Streetwalker series, of which this is a famous example, is one of the most admired areas of Kirchner's art. The models for the series may have been dancer Gerda Schilling and her sister Edna, who later became the artist's lover. He once described the two women as having "beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies", and his encounter with them undoubtedly influenced this series of figure paintings.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Self-Portrait as a Soldier (1915)

Artwork description & Analysis: Self-Portrait as a Soldier examines the psychological distress experienced by Kirchner during his service in the military. He was a reluctant soldier and soon became preoccupied with avoiding service, and following a self-induced psychosis, aided by his use of alcohol and drugs, he was discharged. The painting displays a uniformed Kirchner standing in his studio, smoking a cigarette. His right hand is severed, symbolizing his trauma and possibly also his anxiety of his loss of manhood; the motif is based on Van Gogh's Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear (1889), a picture the artist painted after he too had inflicted injuries upon himself. In the background of Kirchner's picture stands a nude who bears a resemblance to his lover of the time, Erna Schilling.

Oil on canvas - Allen Memorial Art Museum, Ohio


Blick auf Davos (1924)

Artwork description & Analysis: After being discharged from the military, Kirchner took refuge in Davos, where the Alps surrounding his home provided a new kind of bucolic inspiration. The painting depicts a cool mountain range embracing a small town, a pictorial sigh of relief following the end of World War I. Inspired by van Gogh's landscape paintings and the work of the Fauvists, Kirchner used pulsating shades of violet, blue, green, and yellow to depict the rural scene. The swooping perspective is similar to Kirchner's early paintings of urban life.

Oil on canvas



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Related Art and Artists


Puberty (1894-95)

Artist: Edvard Munch

Artwork description & Analysis: Agony, anxiety and loss are constant themes throughout Munch's oeuvre, yet perhaps nowhere do they come together as powerfully as in Munch's Puberty, a portrait of adolescence and isolation. The lone and guarded female figure symbolizes a state of sexual depression and frustration - both of which plagued the artist himself throughout his life while the girl, although apparently shy (to judge by her posture), indicates quite the opposite by way of her frank stare. The looming shadow behind the figure hints at the birth of an ominous and sentient creature, perhaps one haunting her room, if indeed it is not her own dawning persona. The aesthetic qualities of Post-Impressionism are still very much present in Munch's work at this time, but what sets his work apart is the powerful element of symbolism. Munch is painting not necessarily what he sees, but what he feels in front of him. Munch usually painted, in fact, from imagination rather than from life, but here the uncharacteristic detailing of the girl's body - in particular the collar bone is considered by many evidence that, at least in this instance, Munch resorted to the use of a live model.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery, Oslo


Starry Night (1889)

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Artwork description & Analysis: Starry Night is often considered to be Van Gogh's pinnacle achievement. Unlike most of his works, Starry Night was painted from memory, and not out in the landscape. The emphasis on interior, emotional life is clear in his swirling, tumultuous depiction of the sky - a radical departure from his previous, more naturalistic landscapes. Here, Van Gogh followed a strict principal of structure and composition in which the forms are distributed across the surface of the canvas in an exact order to create balance and tension amidst the swirling torsion of the cypress trees and the night sky. The result is a landscape rendered through curves and lines, its seeming chaos subverted by a rigorous formal arrangement. Evocative of the spirituality Van Gogh found in nature, Starry Night is famous for advancing the act of painting beyond the representation of the physical world.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art


Artwork Images

Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra) (1907)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse was working on a sculpture, Reclining Nude I, when he accidentally damaged the piece. Before repairing it, he painted it in blue against a background of palm fronds. The nude is hard and angular, both a tribute to Cézanne and to the sculpture Matisse saw in Algeria. She is also a deliberate response to nudes seen in the Paris Salon - ugly and hard rather than soft and pretty. This was the last Matisse painting bought by Leo and Gertrude Stein.

Oil on canvas - The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection

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" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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