KIRCHNER Ernst Ludwig
( 1880-1938) German painter born in Aschaffenburg; died in Davos, Switzerland. He was the son of a distinguished chemist in the paper industry, and moved around a good deal in his early years because of his father's career before settling at Chemnitz in 1890. Kirchner was the dominant personality of the group of young artists who, in Dresden in 1905, joined together to found the Bruücke movement. Like the other members of the group, he was influenced by PostImpressionism, particularly Gauguin and van Gogh, by Fauvism, and by Munch. The example of Munch as well as the discovery, in 1904, of Polynesian and Negro art, helped him to grow out of his first works and led him to simplify form and colour. Working together with his friends, especially from 1907 to 1909, he gave to this technique it still more systematic character. Then painters sought to express plastically the immediacy of life in a music-hall, a brothel or a circus. Kirchner, above all, was haunted by the concentrated energy of athletes' bodies and by the animal freedom, the tremulous eroticism of nude women. In 1911 the members of the Brücke left Dresden for Berlin. From that moment Kirchner's painting -- in portraits and street scenes -- conveyed the acid flavour of the intense, artificial life of Berlin at the time. The plastic structure of his canvases become more solid, more dynamic, Kirchner having learnt from the new Cubist movement the concentration of spatial aspects and their translation by angular forms. Nevertheless, Kirchner did not follow Braque's and Picasso's method of representing volume in its entirety. What he wished, above all, was essentially the immediate presence of the human being with his vital energy, though at the same time he tried to give it transcendental significance. The passers-by in his street scenes, the cocottes and dandies in the electric atmosphere of his pictures look like half-closed gigantic fans. By this transformation he intensifies their power to communicate their solitude in the cold, crowded co-existence of city life. Kirchner was drafted into the German army in 1915, but he was soon discharged after a mental and physical collapse. He was treated at a sanatorium in Konigstein, near Frankfurt, and painted several murals for the hospital. During the war, in 1916, unable to bear the hardships of military life, Kirchner fell ill: he had to leave Germany in 1917 to rest in Switzerland, at Kreuzlingen, then in the district around Davos, where he stayed until his suicide in 1938. Thus, at first against his will, he encountered a reality which moved him deeply -- mountain scenery. In the life of the peasant bound to the grandiose rhythm in his surroundings, he found the image of man at peace with the forces of Nature. In his pictures the scenes of peasant life sometimes take on a monumental character. This theme is developed in great allegorical compositions after 1926. In the following years, inspired by the simultaneous representation in Picasso's work, Kirchner found new ways of solving his problems. Nevertheless, of all the work painted at Frauenkirch, it is the landscapes which are the most interesting. A mountain landscape as conceived by Kirchner is at the same time a representation and a symbolic reality. The village in the depths of the valley, the steep slopes, the ridges and summits, have at once a mystical and a symbolic quality.
Kirchner was not only a painter. Throughout Kirchner's career, printmaking was as important to him as painting and he ranks as one of the 20th century's greatest masters in this field. His sculptures in different materials and, above all, his immense output of drawings and engravings, are no less important. Above all, Kirchner was a great master of the woodcut, and his illustrations for Peter Schlemihl by Chamisso ( 1916) and for Umbra Vitae by the expressionist poet Georg Heym ( 1924), rank among the best work in modern engraving.
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