ernst ludwig kirchner
1880-1938 This ambitious young bohemian overcame a breakdown To become Germany’s Most celebrated artist – only for his world To come crashing down under The nazi regime
When World War I broke out, German artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, like many of his contemporaries, joined the war effort.
Unlike many other young men, however, Kirchner was an an unwilling volunteer, reluctantly applying to become an artillery driver.
Used to the bohemian life, Kirchner had been a founding member of Die Brücke (‘The Bridge’) whose liberated views were key in the evolution of German Expressionism. Months into his training and addicted to both alcohol and sleeping pills, Kirchner had a mental breakdown and was discharged in November 1915. Kirchner never actually served, but the horrors of war left their mark on his work, in particular in his Self-portrait as a Soldier, depicting himself mutilated, his back turned on his old life.
Following his breakdown, Kirchner sought treatment in a sanatorium in Switzerland in 1916, where he remained for a couple of years. In 1918, he moved to a small village in the Swiss Alps. In the inter-war years, Kirchner’s evocative work gathered a keen following in his home country. But not everyone appreciated his expressive, primitive art. In the 1930s Kirchner’s works were rounded up by the Nazis and in 1937 several of his artworks were exhibited in the ‘Degenerate
Art Exhibition’ in Munich. Considered a badge of pride for many artists who were repulsed by the regime, the ‘honour’ was Kirchner’s undoing. The following year he shot himself.
Kirchner painted this self-portrait in his army uniform just before he was admitted to a sanatorium in 1915