Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
1916Oil on canvas
18 1/4 x 15 inches (46.5 x 38.5 cm)
Signed lower right: E. L. Kirchner Verso with Estate stamp: Be/Ab2 Also inscribed on stretcher: Ste... Nachlass E.L. Kirchner Be/Ab2
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a German Expressionist painter, printmaker and one of the founders of Die Brücke or "The Bridge", a group that held an integral role leading to the foundation of Expressionism in 20th-century art. He was was born in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria to parents of Prussian descent, who encouraged his artistic career. In 1901 he began studying architecture at the Königliche Technische Hochschule (royal technical university) of Dresden. While in attendance, he became close friends with Fritz Bleyl, with whom discussed art and studied nature, sharing a radical outlook. Kirchner continued studies in Munich 1903–1904, returning to Dresden in 1905 to complete his degree.
In 1905, Kirchner, along with Bleyl and two other architecture students, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel, founded Die Brücke ("The Bridge"). The group turned away from traditional academic style in favor of a new mode of artistic expression, which would form a bridge between the past and the present. They found influence in the works of past artists, such as Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder, as well as contemporary international avant-garde movements. They held their first group exhibition, focused on the female nude, in 1906 in the showroom of K.F.M. Seifert and Co. in Dresden.
Kirchner volunteered for military service at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He was sent to Halle an der Saale to train as a driver in the reserve unit of the 75th Mansfeld Field Artillery Regiment, but soon suffered a mental and physical breakdown. He was admitted to Dr. Kohnstamm’s sanatorium in Königstein in Taunus, where he stayed, but periodically returned to Berlin to continue his work at his studio. After an exhibition of his work in at the gallery of Ludwig Schames, in Frankfurt am Main in October 1916, Kirchner sold many works, and continued to produce paintings and woodcuts. He would continue to struggle with deprssion, mental health and physical pain and was frequently under the care of doctors and in sanatoriums.
In 1921, there was a major display of Kirchner's work in Berlin with favorable reviews by crtics. A few years later in 1925 Kirchner became close friends with fellow artist, Albert Müller and met with Hermann Scherer, Paul Camenisch and Hans Schiess. In 1927, Kirchner organized a memorial exhibition for Albert Müller at the Kunsthalle Basel and enjoyed a major exhibition of his own work at the schoolhouse in Davos. During this time his style was growing increasingly abstract.
In 1931, he was made a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. As the Nazi party took power in Germany, it became impossible for Kirchner to sell his paintings. In 1933, he was forced to resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts. In 1937, the Degenerate Art Exhibition took place in Germany; a total of 639 works by Kirchner were taken out of museums and 25 were displayed in the exhibition. On 15 June 1938, Kirchner took his own life by gunshot in front of his home in Frauenkirch.
Our work Mansions is bright, beautiful, and lively. Nature and civilization seem to merge, with a compacted perspective that is both cheerful and layered. The work features large houses painted in bold, primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. They are surrounded by nature in its pure, wild form portrayed in various shades of greens, ranging from pastel to very dark. The paint application gives this work a watercolor-like quality, as found in many of Kirchner’s paintings, with bright colors applied thinly and rapidly. Evidence of dripping paint can be seen, especially in the upper left quadrant, giving a feeling of urgency and movement to this charming piece.