Friday, 16 May 2014

Ernst L. Kirchner: running on The Bridge

Die Zirkusreiterin
In 1905 few architecture students at the German university of Dresden chose the name “die Brücke” -The Bridge- to highlight the purpose of their entrance into the world of art as a united group. They were ready to start an ambitious journey, even though their restlessness did not make it seem so.

By means of bold brushstrokes, those students were to become the missing link between the medieval German masters such as Dürer and Grünewald, and what they believed to be the spirit of their time. Following the space-time coordinates of the history of art with large spans over the academic tradition, they wished besides to find a common point in the artistic expressions of Europe,tribal Africa and Oceania.

The rooms of Fritz Bleyl , Karl Schmidt- Rottluff , Erich Heckel, and in particular the one of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - an old butcher's shop in Dresden- became the settings for years of frantic research. The object of their investigations was the emotional impact given by the shapes constituting the material reality surrounding us. Through combinations of colours able to capture specific moments of the perception, they managed to cut the sensorial elaboration into infinite particular layers.

In a few years, due to the growing appreciation of the public and thanks to the favourable critics, the group moved to the capital, Berlin. There, Kirchner could deepen his analysis of the urban dimension by studying the atmospheres created by the neon lights. In his paintings the electrical power of these halos seems not to leave behind the dimly shaded loneliness of the metropolitan mass.

Rattling trams and desolate crossroads accompany the steps of the pedestrians whose faces appear like fish swimming in dark waters when suddenly caught by single rays of electrical light.

Attics, nightclubs and circus are notably the places where Kirchner widened his study of the human figure portrayed mostly indoors. Here, the subjects of his works seem to fall alternately in an apparent state of rest or in the excitement of a frenzy dance.

In 1913 the Bridge broke up. Probably, Kirchner’s self-centeredness in writing Chronik der Brücke , the Chronicles of the group , irritated his companions who didn’t recognized themselves in the text. After this event, each member attempted to diminish the experience of the Brücke, especially in regard to their individual artistic growth. A little bit of a paradox if you think about an artistic phenomenon whose creative energy contributed, in parallel with the movement of the Fauves in France, to the birth of Expressionism.

Self-portrait as a Soldier
With the outbreak of World War I Kirchner enlisted as a volunteer, but he was an emotional soldier who suffers from the discipline. Soon he was victim of a serious nervous breakdown that caused his reformation from the army. Explicit in this regard, Kirchner’s "Self-Portrait as a Soldier" where he portrayed himself in uniform and with a mutilated hand, even though he never suffered such physical accident.

Kirchner took refuge at a sanatorium in the Alpine resort of Davos in Switzerland. Under the supervision of the doctors, his conditions improved and he managed to ease his addiction to alcohol and morphine. The recovery was also an opportunity to come in close contact with the natural environment which resolved the last part of Kirchner’s artistic activity.

In a letter from Davos in 1913 Kirchner writes: "Van de Velde has written me today that I should go back to modern life. For me this is out of the question. And I do not even regret it ... The delights that the world provides are the same everywhere, differing only in their outer form. Here you can learn instead how to see further and go deeper than you can do in the "modern" life, which is generally much, much more superficial despite its wealth of outer forms."

Bathers on the Lawn
During the convalescence, Kirchner success grew further and in 1921 fifty of his works were on display at the Berliner Kronprinzenpalais. But many other exhibitions took place all over Germany and forced him to reconsider the possibility of a return to his homeland, where he finally went to work again at a relentless pace.

At the beginning of the 30’s Kirchner’s great versatility as a painter, wood engraver and sculptor gave him new opportunities and soon he was in charge of the decoration of the Hall of the Folkwang Museum in Essen. A job that, unfortunately, he was never able to complete due to the coming to power of the Nazi regime that seized the property and put Kirchner in the list of "degenerate artists".

Starting from 1933, Kirchner was continually opposed by Goebbels’ cultural reforms and soon he was forbidden to exhibit in Germany. Over six hundred of his works were confiscated from the museums to be destroyed or sold abroad.

Paar im Zimmer
Made even more fragile by the political circumstances and the ban on modern art, Kirchner committed suicide at his home in Davos, a year before the outbreak of the Second World War.

For an introduction to the work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, I suggest to follow the links below which lead to two texts in pdf format.