Ernst Ludwig Kirchner



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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 became the muse of the “Brücke” artists. Fränzi was eight years old when the artists began to sketch and paint her. The Expressionists’ painting style is characterized by strong colours dominated by subjective feelings and tends towards abstraction and simplification of the motif. In 1910 Kirchner became a member of the Deutscher Künstlerbund. One year later, 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 overemphasized 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.

First World War and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s resettlement in Switzerland

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.

The artist suffers from paralysis, paranoia, and 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 began to publish essays and positive reviews of his 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.

1920s & 1930s

For the first time in nine years, the artist left Switzerland in 1925 and travelled to Berlin, where he received high recognition. In 1931, he became a member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. Kirchner’s painting style became increasingly two-dimensional in 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 took his own life with a shot to the heart in Frauenkirch on 15 June 1938.


1901 – Begins to study architecture in Dresden.

1903 – Study semester at the Munich Art Academy.

1904 – Continuation of studies in Dresden.

1905 – Foundation of the artists’ group “Brücke”.

1906 – Dodo becomes Kichner’s model and lover.

1909 – Fränzi Fehrmann becomes muse of the “Brücke”.

1910 – Member of the German Artists’ Association.

1911 – Moves to Berlin. Founds the MUIM Institute (Modern Instruction in Painting) together with Max Pechstein. Acquaintance with the sisters Erna and Gerda Schilling.

1912 – Participation in the Sonderbund exhibition, Cologne.

1913 – Writes the chronicle of the “Brücke”. Dissolution of the “Bridge

1915 – Volunteers for the military. Sick, granted leave and discharged. Stays in a sanatorium in Königsstein.

1916 – Stay at the Kohnstamm sanatorium. In December, stay at Dr. Edel’s nerve sanatorium, Berlin-Charlottenburg.

1917 – Move to Davos. Summer on the Staffelalp. Admission to the Bellevue Sanatorium, Kreuzlingen.

1918 – Moves to Frauenkirch near Davos.

1920 – Writes about his work for the first time under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle.

1921 – Acquaintance with the dancer Nina Hard in Davos.

1922 – Acquaintance and beginning of collaboration with the weaver Lise Gujer.

1923 – Move to the “Wildbodenhaus” above Frauenkirch.

1926 – First trip to Germany.

1931 – Member of the Academy of Arts, Berlin.

1937/1939 – Works are confiscated from German museums as “degenerate”.




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