Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (* 6 May 1880 in Aschaffenburg; † 15 June 1938 in Frauenkirch-Wildboden, Switzerland) was a German painter and graphic artist. He was one of the founding members of the artists' group "Brücke" and is one of the most important representatives of Expressionism.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Dresden and the "Brücke"

In 1901, the young Ernst Ludwig Kirchner began studying architecture at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden. During his studies he spent one semester at the art academy in Munich. After completing his studies in 1905, the artist founded the artists' group "Brücke" together with Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Already in November of the same year, the first "Brücke" exhibition was held in Leipzig.

Four years later, Lina Franziska (called Fränzi) Fehrmann becomes the muse of the "Brücke" artists. Fränzi is eight years old when the artists begin to sketch and paint her. The Expressionists' painting style is characterised by strong colours dominated by subjective feelings and has a tendency towards abstraction and simplification of the motif.

In 1910 Kirchner became a member of the Deutscher Künstlerbund. One year later he moved from Dresden to Berlin. Together with Max Pechstein he founded the MUIM Institute (Modern Instruction in Painting). He made the acquaintance of the sisters Gerda and Erna Schilling. The latter was to become his partner for many years.

In 1913 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner wrote the "Chronicle of the KG Brücke". The group disbanded in the same year due to disputes following this publication. Kirchner is said to have overemphasised his importance for the group in this chronicle.

One tenth of his work was created between 1908 and 1914, during which time the artist regularly spent the summer months on Fehmarn.

The motifs of free nature form a separate group of works in contrast to the pictorial motifs of the big city from the same period.

After the outbreak of the First World War, Kirchner volunteered for military service. Due to mental and physical illness, however, he was discharged from service and sent to a sanatorium. As his condition did not improve, Kirchner spent most of the years 1915-1917 in a mental institution.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's resettlement in Switzerland

The artist suffers from paralysis, paranoia and an anxiety phobia. In 1917 the artist travels to Davos for the first time. After his final release from the sanatorium, Kirchner moved to Frauenkirch, a rural town in Switzerland. Under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle, Kirchner begins to publish essays and positive reviews of his own works in 1920. In 1923 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner moves into the Wildboden House above Frauenkirch.

During these years Kirchner's despair is reflected in his self-portraits and sketches. Despite his illnesses, Kirchner continues to devote himself to art and begins to create large-format paintings. He focuses mainly on landscapes and portraits.

For the first time in nine years, the artist leaves Switzerland in 1925 and travels to Berlin, where he receives high recognition. In 1931 he became a member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin.

Kirchner's painting style became increasingly two-dimensional from 1925. At the end of the 1920s he developed a very personal and strongly abstract style and an increasingly autonomous formal language.

After the National Socialists seized power in 1937, 639 of his works were confiscated from German museums and he was expelled from the Academy of Arts.

Some of his works were shown in the defamatory exhibition "Degenerate Art".

Kirchner takes his own life with a shot to the heart in Frauenkirch on 15 June 1938.

Zwei liegende Akte, ca 1908, colored chalk on brownish paper, 34,5 × 44 cm

In Kissen liegende nackte Fränzi, ca 1911, pencil on paper, 27,5 × 34 cm

Boudoir-Szene, ca 1908, Chalk and charcoal on cardboard, 20,5 × 23,6 cm

Gerti mit Maske, ca 1910, Ink on paper, 24,8 × 24,6 cm


Begins to study architecture in Dresden.
Study semester at the Munich Art Academy.
Continuation of studies in Dresden.
Foundation of the artists' group "Brücke".
Dodo becomes Kichner's model and lover.
Fränzi Fehrmann becomes muse of the "Brücke".
Member of the German Artists' Association.
Moves to Berlin. Founds the MUIM Institute (Modern Instruction in Painting) together with Max Pechstein. Acquaintance with the sisters Erna and Gerda Schilling.
Participation in the Sonderbund exhibition, Cologne.
Writes the chronicle of the "Brücke". Dissolution of the "Bridge
Volunteers for the military. Sick, granted leave and discharged. Stays in a sanatorium in Königsstein.
Stay at the Kohnstamm sanatorium. In December, stay at Dr. Edel's nerve sanatorium, Berlin-Charlottenburg.
Move to Davos. Summer on the Staffelalp. Admission to the Bellevue Sanatorium, Kreuzlingen.
Moves to Frauenkirch near Davos.
Writes about his work for the first time under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle.
Acquaintance with the dancer Nina Hard in Davos.
Acquaintance and beginning of collaboration with the weaver Lise Gujer.
Move to the "Wildbodenhaus" above Frauenkirch.
First trip to Germany.
Member of the Academy of Arts, Berlin.
Works are confiscated from German museums as "degenerate".

Artist groups

Berlin Secession

In 1898 the Berlin Secession is founded as a counter-movement to the established academically oriented art scene. At the time of its foundation, the association consisted of 65 artists led by Max Liebermann, including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. The artists turn away from romanticised historicism and, inspired by everyday situations, develop a modern formal and pictorial language. During the years of its existence, the group organised independent exhibitions in its own premises, with a focus on the internationality of the works shown. The group's firm establishment in the art market brought new conflicts due to its size and the diversity of the artists. Thus, in 1910, the " New Secession" split off.

The artist group Brücke

The artists' group "Brücke" was founded in Dresden in 1905 by architecture students Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Since none of them had completed any artistic studies, there is no art-theoretical approach as a fundament behind the group, unlike in the case of the "Blaue Reiter". What is ostensible is an urge for public visibility and recognition outside civic society. The group is an unconventional form of living community which reflects a uniform artistic style. 1910 marks the peak of the "bridge style", which is characterised, among other things, by intense colour contrasts, coarsening of forms and simplification of motifs. This sometimes develops from the preferred use of various printing techniques, such as woodcut and etching. The artists' main focus is on working quickly and intuitively in the outdoors and interpreting nature in a way that expresses one's senses. When the artists moved to Berlin in 1911, the urban environment became increasingly present in their lives and oeuvres. After increasing estrangement, the artists eventually separated in 1913. For a time, Hermann Max Pechstein, Otto Mueller and Emil Nolde, among others, joined the group and influenced the development of the "Brücke". Today, the works of the artists from the "Brücke" are considered, along with those of the "Blaue Reiter", to be the most important evidence of German Expressionism and can be found in many renowned art collections.

Classical Modernism

Classical Modernism comprises various art and style movements of the first half of the 20th century. Especially across countries, there is a great heterogeneity of the arts, whereby not all artists and works can be clearly categorised. Classical Modernism includes not only the visual arts but also design, architecture and photography. The tremendous wealth of currents and tendencies in Classical Modernism shows similarities and differences and proves how strong the exchange among artists is beyond national borders and stylistic movements. Alongside the artists of Expressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, New Objectivity and various other avant-garde movements, painters such as Marc Chagall, Marino Marini, Lovis Corinth, Marcel Duchamp, Egon Schiele, Hannah Höch, Maria Lassnig, Max Ernst, Robert Delaunay and Paul Klee belong to Classical Modernism.