Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig [key], 1880–1938, German expressionist painter and graphic artist. He studied art in Munich and was greatly impressed by the neoimpressionists. Kirchner studied Oceanic and other primitive sculpture at the Dresden Museum of Ethnology in 1904. This art was of great importance for him and for the movement known as the Brücke, which he cofounded the following year. Also inspired by late Gothic woodcuts and the art of Edvard Munch, Van Gogh, and the Fauves (see fauvism), Kirchner merged their expressive forces into powerful and original creations. With startling contrasts of pure color and aggressive forms, Kirchner explored the world of night cafés and the streets of metropolitan Berlin. His savagely executed woodcuts are among the outstanding works in this medium produced in the 20th cent. and are among the most powerful creations of the expressionist vision. He suffered an emotional breakdown in 1914 and moved to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, after World War I. In the next few years, his art became less tortured and more abstract. In 1938, following the Nazi condemnation of “degenerate art,” including some 600 of Kirchner's works, the artist, in failing health, committed suicide. Characteristic works are the portrait of Erich Heckel and his wife (Smith College Mus.); The Street (1913; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City); and the illustrations for Peter Schlemihl (1916).
See biographical study by D. E. Gordon (1968).
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