Depicting the moving figures to express the fullness and vitality of human body and using the flat areas of unbroken and unmixed colors and simplified forms, the German painter and printmaker, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, is celebrated as one of the leaders of a group of Expressionist artist known as “Die Brücke” (The Bridge).
Famous for his highly personal style imbued with psychological tension and eroticism, the Expressionist painter was born on May 6, 1880, in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria. At a young age, Kirchner was impressed by the graphic art of German late Gothic artists. But his exposure to the Jugendstil movement and dynamic art of the Norwegian Expressionist painter Edvard Munch led him to simplify his forms and brighten his colors.
In 1901, Kirchner began to studying architecture at the Dresden Technical High School, where he met and worked with Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. With them, Kirchner founded an artist group “Die Brücke” (The Bridge) in 1905. The aim was to eschew the traditional academic styles and to create a new mode of artistic expression, forming a ‘bridge’ between classical motifs of the past and the present avant-garde.
In the paintings “Girl under Japanese Umbrella” (1906) and “Artist and his Model” (1907), Kirchner’s use of color for visual impact can be seen. These works show a superficial affinity with the paintings of Henri Matisse and the Fauves in France. But the jagged outlines of Kirchner’s form and the wary expressions of the faces create a threatening mood that is absent in Fauvist works.
In 1906, Kirchner and Die Brücke held their first group exhibition in a lamp factory. The female nude was the primary subject of the exhibition. Kirchner’s woodcut print, “Nude Dancers” (1909), exemplifies the energetic tone of the exhibition. Die Brücke ended in 1913 with Kirchner’s publication of “Chronik der Brücke”, which focused on the ‘freedom of life and of movement against the long established older forces.’
Gradually, Kirchner turned his attention away from the female nude and toward the Berlin streets with the creation of the “Strassenbilder” series in 1915. These paintings focus on the energetic life of modern Berlin, as he observed the changing political situation of World War l and its impact on German culture.
Kirchner depicted the crowds of people with bold expressive brushstrokes and in brash colors of blue, green orange and pink. The perspective of the paintings was often skewed, the figures looming and teetering either toward or away from the picture plane, as a rejection of the academic conventions that he learned in his architecture courses.
After a mental and physical breakdown in 1915, Kirchner moved to Switzerland. His late landscapes are often allegorical, showing human beings unencumbered by civilization and at peace with nature. Kirchner endured long periods of depression and after the Nazis declared his work “degenerate” in 1937, he committed suicide on June 15, 1938, in front of his home in Frauenkirch.