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GERMAN

Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig
born: 1880 Aschaffenburg, Germany
died: 1938 Davon, Switzerland

Convinced of his calling, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner devoted himself entirely to art after graduating from architectural school. In 1905, he and his friends Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff founded Die Brücke (The Bridge), a group whose program Kirchner incised in wood, as if on the tablets of the law: "As youth, we carry the future and want to create for ourselves freedom of life and of movement against the long established older forces. Everyone who reproduces that which drives him to creation with directness and authenticity belongs to us." The painters and poets of Expressionism attacked the inhumanity of what they cansidered an overcivilized world, and threw off the shackles of bourgeois life and academic tradition. The small group of artists met once a week for what they called a "quarter-hour nude." Their model changed her pose every fifteen minutes at the latest, and was encouraged to avoid any attitude that looked arty or unnatural. Thanks to this practice in rapid sketching, Kirchner's figures soon took on an amazing vitality. This is seen in Femate Half-length Nude with Nat (1911), a picture ofthe artist's Dresden girlfriend, Doris Grosse, or Dodo, in which the sensuality of the female body is captured in a few, powerfully sweeping strokes. The newly achieved sexual freedom of the day is demanstrated here with a zeal that verges on the propagandistic, the gir) offering her bared breasts aver the lowered dress like fruit in a bowl. The curve of the shoulders combines with the dress neckline to form an oval that frames the breasts. The face, in turn, is framed by the round hat, with a a transparent section in the brim that reveals the girl's forehead and eyes. The delicate glow of the skin is effectively heightened by contrast to the intense, flat blue of the background. With this work Kirchner introduced into art a motif previously unknown: the partially unclad female figu re. The expressive, geometrically simplified forms of Kirchner`s Stil Life with Tulips, Exotic Sculpture, and Hands (1912) attest to the artist's admiration of the French Fauves and the primitive art of Africa and the South Seas, one of the ideals by which he sought to divest his work of academic, sophisticated form. A short time later, Kirchner's move to Berlin confronted him with the blandishments and temptations of modern civilization. The advocate of unsullied simplicity became a chronicler of city life. His Berlin picture Five Women on the Street (1913) in the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, was the first of his famous street scenes. "As if uniformed, garishly made up, dressed in chic evening gowns, feather boas, and fashionab4e hats," writes U. Schulze, Kirchner's streetwalkers call exotic plants in a greenhouse to mind. Seemingly aimlessly, they saunter along "attempting to make eye contact in every direction, themse4ves becoming part of the merchandise on display in the great downtawn department store, erotic mannequins in the grip of barely concealed mental anguish." By exaggerating the fashionable attire, Kirchner has condensed its details inta an effective symbol of a society rife with self deception, lmperial Germany dancing on the volcano of imminent war. The Railroad Viaduct (1914) shows the view fram the window of Kirchner's studio in Berlin. The bold diagonals that almost seem ta burst out of the frame, and the nervously agitated brushwork, exhibit the composition and attack of Expressionism at their most forceful. Group ofArtists (The Painters of the Brücke) (1925-1926) is one of the finest pictures of its type, the friendship painting. With it Kirchner set a monument to his confreres (from (eft to right: Otto Mueller, Kirchner, Heckel, and Schmidt-Rottluff). When the picture was painted the group had already been disbanded for twelve years. A reunion with his ald friends was probably the sentimental occasion of the painting, which was done from memory after Kirchner's return to Switzerland, where he underwent treatment for severe depression. A key to an understanding of Expressionism is provided by the artist's drawings and their unmistakable touch - lucid and fluent, in a typically abbreviated style, as in Steeping Woman (c. 1911-1912). Not only line and sparing color, but the white of the paper itself are used to evoke the image. In the watercolor Nude Girl by the Stove (c. 1913-1914), the tense, as if engraved crayon strokes, rapid zig-zag hatching, and the constricted space with its interlocked forms invoke an electrified atmosphere. Here Kirchner's indebtedness to African and South Pacific sculpture is much in evidence

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