Karl Schmidt-Rottluff



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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. During 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 was appointed professor at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, where he taught 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 opened in Berlin-Dahlem in 1967.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff died in Berlin on 10 August 1976.

Posthumous reception

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.


1905 – Begins to study architecture in Dresden. Co-founder of the artists’ group “Brücke”.

1906 – Acquaintance with Emil Nolde, Gustav Schiefler, and Dr. Rosa Schapire.

1907/1910 – Summer residencies in Dangast with Erich Heckel.

1911 – Moves to Berlin. Journey to Norway.

1912 – Participation in the Sonderbund exhibition, Cologne. Friendship with Lyonel Feininger.

1915/1918 – War service in the East.

1919 – Marriage to Emy Frisch.

1923 – Trip to Italy with Georg Kolbe and Richard Scheibe.

1925 – Spring in Dalmatia.

1927 – Stays in Ascona.

1930 – Study guest at the Villa Massimo, Rome.

1931 – Member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin.

1933 – Expulsion from the Academy.

1938 – Works removed from German museums as “degenerate art”.

1941 – Painting ban.

1943 – Destruction of the Berlin studio. Moves to Rottluff.

1947/1954 – Professorship at the Berlin University of Fine Arts, Berlin.

1957 – Knight of the Order “Pour le Mérite”.

1967 – Inauguration of the Brücke Museum in Berlin (foundation of the artist).

1974 – Lovis Corinth Prize.





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