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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
b. 1880, Aschaffenburg, Germany; d. 1938, Davos, Switzerland
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was born on May 6, 1880, in Aschaffenburg, Germany. After years of travel, his family settled in Chemnitz in 1890. From 1901 to 1905 he studied architecture at the Dresden Technische Hochschule, and pictorial art in Munich at the Kunsthochschule and at an experimental art school established by Wilhelm von Debschitz and Hermann Obrist. While in Munich he produced his first woodcuts; the graphic arts were to become as important to him as painting. At that time he was drawn to Neo-Impressionism as well as to the old masters.
In 1905 the Die Brücke (The Bridge) group was founded in Dresden by Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff; later, Cuno Amiet, Otto Müller, Emil Nolde, and Max Pechstein joined the group. From 1905 to 1910 Dresden hosted exhibitions of Post-Impressionism, including the work of Vincent van Gogh, as well as shows featuring Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch, and the Fauves, who deeply impressed Kirchner. Other important influences were Japanese prints, and African and Oceanic art. Kirchner moved to Berlin with the Brücke group in 1911. The following year Franz Marc included works by Brücke artists in the second show of the Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) at Heinrich Thannhauser’s Moderne Galerie in Munich, thus providing a link between the two groups. In 1913 Kirchner exhibited in the Armory Show in New York, and was given his first solo shows in Germany at the Museum Folkwang Hagen, and the Galerie Gurlitt, Berlin. That year also marked the dissolution of the Brücke.
During World War I Kirchner was discharged from the army because of a nervous and physical collapse. He was treated at Dr. Oskar Kohnstamm’s sanatorium in Königstein near Frankfurt, where he completed five wall frescoes in 1916. In 1918, he settled in Frauenkirch near Davos, Switzerland, where many young artists, particularly those of the Basel-based Rot-Blau group, sought him out for guidance. Solo shows of Kirchner’s work were held throughout the 1930s in Basel, Bern, Hamburg, Munich, Detroit, and New York. However, physical deterioration and mental anxiety overtook him again in the middle of the decade. His inclusion in Entartete Kunst, the Nazis’ 1937 exhibition of so-called “degenerate art,” caused him further distress. Kirchner died by his own hand on June 15, 1938, in Frauenkirch.