Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

Karl Schmidt (* 1 December 1884 in Rottluff (now Chemnitz); † 10 August 1976 in Berlin;) was a German painter, graphic artist and sculptor. He is considered one of the most important representatives of Expressionism and a classic of Modernism.

Schmidt-Rottluff's early work

Karl Schmidt was born on 01 December 1884 as the son of a miller in Rottluff. From 1905 he called himself by his surname Schmidt-Rottluff. In the same year he began to study architecture at the Technical University in Dresden. Together with fellow students Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl and Erich Heckel, he founded the artists' group "Brücke".
In 1906 the student made the acquaintance of Emil Nolde, Gustav Schiefler and Dr. Rosa Schapire. From 1907 to 1910, Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel spent the summer months in Dangast, where they found numerous motifs for their landscape paintings.

In 1910 the artist took part in exhibitions of the 'Neue Secession' and moved to Berlin in 1911. In 1912 he took part in the 2nd exhibition of the "Blaue Reiter" in Munich and the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne. After the dissolution of the "Brücke" in 1913, Schmidt-Rottluff joined the "Freie Secession" and had his first solo exhibition there.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff after the "Brücke"

With the outbreak of the First World War, he was stationed in the East as an armoured soldier in 1915. During this time he created a collection of various woodcuts in which he processed the horrors of the war. These are considered his main graphic works.

In 1919 he married Emy Frisch. In the following years the artist stayed in Italy several times, among them in 1923 with Georg Kolbe and Richard Scheibe, and in 1930 as a study guest at the Villa Massimo. In 1931 he became a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, but was expelled from the academy in 1933.
The National Socialists' seizure of power in 1933 led to 608 of his works being removed from German museums in 1937 and defamed as "degenerate". In 1941, the artist was officially banned from painting. Despite this, the artist continued to paint in secret, with the support of Hanna Bekker vom Rath and Helmuth James Graf von Moltke. When his Berlin studio was destroyed during the Second World War, the artist returned to Rottluff.

Schmidt-Rottluff after the Second World War

In 1947 he is appointed professor at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, where he teaches until 1954. The artist participated in documenta 1 in Kassel in 1955. In 1957 he was awarded the knighthood "Pour le Mérite". Thanks to his initiative, the Brücke Museum opens in Berlin-Dahlem in 1967.
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff died in Berlin on 10 August 1976.

Many exhibitions honour Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, who is posthumously counted among the most important representatives of German Expressionism. By using unmixed primary colours, the artist lends his works an intense luminosity and goes even further than his fellow artists. Throughout his creative period, his choice of motifs alternated mainly between landscapes, bathing scenes, portraits and still lifes.

Stadtansicht mit Kirchturm, 1925, Watercolor and ink on paper, 63,5 × 49 cm

Morgendämmerung, 1958, India ink on paper, 50 × 69,5 cm


Begins to study architecture in Dresden. Co-founder of the artists' group "Brücke".
Acquaintance with Emil Nolde, Gustav Schiefler and Dr. Rosa Schapire.
Summer residencies in Dangast with Erich Heckel.
Moves to Berlin. Journey to Norway.
Participation in the Sonderbund exhibition, Cologne. Friendship with Lyonel Feininger.
War service in the East.
Marriage to Emy Frisch.
Trip to Italy with Georg Kolbe and Richard Scheibe.
Spring in Dalmatia.
Stays in Ascona.
Study guest at the Villa Massimo, Rome.
Member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin.
Expulsion from the Academy.
Works removed from German museums as "degenerate art".
Painting ban.
Destruction of the Berlin studio. Moves to Rottluff.
Professorship at the Berlin University of Fine Arts, Berlin.
Knight of the Order "Pour le Mérite".
Inauguration of the Brücke Museum in Berlin (foundation of the artist).
Lovis Corinth Prize.

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.

Free Secession

The "Freie (Free) Secession" was formed in 1914 as a spin-off of the Berlin Secession. Until its collapse ten years later, 50 artists, including Käthe Kollwitz, Otto Mueller, Max Beckmann and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, worked in the group under the leadership of Max Liebermann. Exhibitions are not only held with the members, but also in honour of artists who have already died.

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.

New Group

The "Neue Gruppe" was formed in Munich shortly after the Second World War in 1946/47. Artists from the "Neue Secession", whose art was considered "degenerate" by the National Socialists and was banned, joined forces to make a new start. Among them were Max Beckmann, Willi Baumeister, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Lothar Fischer, Erich Heckel, Max Kaus, Horst Antes, Konrad Klapheck, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Max Pechstein and Fritz Winter. After the experiences of the preceding dictatorship, they declared a free, tolerant approach in all areas of the visual arts to be their primary goal. The association still exists today as the "Artists' Association Haus der Kunst Munich" after the "Neue Gruppe", "Münchner Sezession" and the "Neue Münchner Künstlergenossenschaft" jointly founded the "Exhibition Administration Haus der Kunst Munich".

New Secession

November Group

The "Novembergruppe" was founded in Berlin in 1918, shortly after the November Revolution. Until its dissolution in 1933 when the National Socialists seized power, over 170 artists were members of this trend-setting movement. Initiated by Max Pechstein and César Klein, the association brought together artists working in the Expressionist, Futurist and Cubist movements such as Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, Alexej von Jawlensky, Willi Baumeister, Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Mueller and Christian Rohlfs. This syncretism also asserts itself in the unification of art, music, architecture, theatre and philosophy that the group advocates. Members asked for a say in matters of art policy, such as the acquisition of art for public collections, art policy and the provision of exhibition space.