Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Red Tower in Halle

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Red Tower in Halle, 1919
47 x 36 in.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) was a German Expressionist painter and one of the founders of the expressionist group Die Brücke (The Bridge).  Born in Bavaria, his family moved frequently and Kirchner attended a number of different schools in Frankfurt and Perlen.  Eventually the family settled in Chamnitz, once Kirchner's father had secured a job as a professor.  Kirchner attended the royal technical university in Dresden, where he studied architecture and engineering, as well as art.  Among Kirchner's biggest influences, especially early in his career, were Matisse and Gauguin.  The work of the two great modernists was crucial in the development of Expressionism.  In 1905, Kirchner founded Die Brücke with his friend Fritz Bleyl and two architecture students, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel.  The group intended to break away from traditional academic painting to find a new mode of expression, and a bridge between the past and present.  Kirchner worked in landscape and portraitdeveloping his own unique style. Among his most celebrated and powerful pieces is Self-Portrait as a Soldier (1915).  The Red Tower in Halle demonstrates this particular style, featuring a distorted landscape and unusual perspective.  With chalky colors and monumental forms, just outside the realm of normal perception, the painting is rather disconcerting.  There is an erie or ominous sense to it; perhaps those are storm clouds rolling in in the background.  The red tower was a minor landmark in the southern city of Halle, but perhaps there was some prescience in Kirchner's piece.  The tower was destroyed by an artillery fire in 1945 when the city was occupied by American troops.  After a great deal of success, and being seen as one of the leading figures of modern art in Europe, Kirchner's work was labeled degenerate by the Nazis in 1937.  Twenty-five of his paintings were exhibited in the famed Degenerate Art Exhibition that year.  Kirchner was expelled from the Academy of Arts in Berlin, and he went to Switzerland with his partner, Erna.  He held an exhibition in Basle to mixed reviews.  Thoroughly depressed over the actions of Germany, and with fears that they would invade Switzerland after Poland, Kirchner took his own life by gunshot in 1938.

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