Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

All art needs this visible world and will always need it. Quite simply because, being accessible to all, it is the key to all other worlds. - Kirchner, 1921

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (6 May 188015 June 1938) was a German expressionist painter and one of the founders of the artists group Die Brücke (The Bridge).

Contents

Quotes of KirchnerEdit

1910sEdit

  • [carving a sculpture in wood] is such a sensual pleasure when blow by blow the figure grows more and more from the trunk.
    • in a letter to Gustav Schiefler, June 27, 1911; as quoted in "German Expressionst Sculpture", ed. Stephanie Barron, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983, p. 114
  • The struggle for existence is very difficult here [in 1911 Kirchner and his Brücke friends moved from Dresden to Berlin], but the possibilities are also greater. I hope that we can create a fruitful new school and convince many new friends of the value of our efforts.
    • Letter to Louise Schiefler, 5 November 1911; as quoted in "Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Grosstad, Eros und Natur, aus der verborgenen Sammlungen der Region", Städtische Galerie Delmenhorst Germany, 2005, pp. 113-114
  • After lengthy struggles [a serious mental breakdown and also the anxiety about being drafted once more, back in the war] I now find myself here for a time to put my mind into some kind of order. It is a terribly difficult thing, of course, to be among strangers [Dr Kohnstamm’s sanatorium in Königstein, in Taunus] so much of the day. But perhaps I’ll be able to see and create something new. For the time being, I would like more peace and absolute seclusion. Of course, I long more and more for my work and my studio. Theories may be all very well for keeping a spiritual balance, but they are grey and shadowy compared with work and life.
    • Letter to Dr Karl Hagemann, January 1916 (friend and patron in Leverkusen and collector of his art); as quoted in the biography-pdf of the Kirchner museum, Davos
  • Every day I studied the nude, and movement in the streets and in the shops [in Berlin]. Out of the naturalistic surface with all its variations I wanted to derive the pictorially determined surface.
    • Letter to Botho Graef, 21 September 1916; as quoted in "Voices of German Expressionism", ed. Victor H. Miesel, Tate publishing, London 2003 p. 18
  • I am now like the cocottes, I once painted [in his Berlin-time]: the merest brushstroke now, gone tomorrow. Nonetheless I am still trying to put my thoughts in order and, from all the confusion, create an image of time, which is my task, after all. [in the Summer of 1915 Kirchner was enlisted in the German army]
    • in a letter to Gustav Schiefler, 12 November 1916; as quoted in "War, art and crisis: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1914 – 1918", National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. 2003, p. 28
  • It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.
    • Letter to K.E. Osthaus, 23 December 1917; as quoted in "Kirchner and the Berlin street", ed. Deborah Wye, Moma, New York, 2008, p. 36
  • Down there it’s still Summer, I suppose, whereas our sun [in Switzerland] is already gilding the mountains and the larches are turning yellow, but the colours are wonderful, like old, dark red satin. Down here in the valley the huts stand out in the strongest Paris blue against the yellow fields. Here one really learns the values of the individual colours for the first time. And the harsh, monumental lines of the mountains.
    • Letter to Nele van de Velde, Frauenkirch, 13 October 1918; as quoted in "Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock", Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, pp. 223-224
  • I am very happy and thankful to be 'here' [Switzerland] and to remain. Here I can at least work a little on my good days, and be at peace among these simple, kindly people. In this solitude I have fought my way through to the possibility of continuing to live, even suffering so much. My time for circuses, 'cocottes' and company is over [referring to his wild 'Brücke'-years in Berlin]. I made what I could out of it, and I do not think it had been done in that way before. Otherwise there is nothing to link me with those 'événements'. During my 7 years in Berlin I let the whole essence of that kind of thing seep into me so thoroughly that I now know it back to front, and can leave it. Now I have other tasks, and they lie here.. .I cannot go down again into the throng. I am more than ever afraid of crowds. But more still, my work here is only at the beginning of its possibilities.
    • Letter to architect Henry van de Velde, Frauenkirch, 5 July 1919; as quoted in "Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock", Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, pp. 224-225
  • We Europeans have to toil to achieve it, at least as a transitional stage, for it is what we feed our dreams upon. These Orientals [from India] have it in their blood, perhaps because they spend their lives I the sun. We poor wretched Europeans must sacrifice body and soul for even a shadow of it.. .It is not a question of trying to reproduce objective features, only of good practice for the fingers and for the perceptive faculty, and that too is very useful. You must have read how Van Gogh was always getting his brother to send him drawings to copy. And how Rembrandt used to copy Indian an Italian pictures. Not of course, because they were short of material, but to get 'du corps'. So one should be always drawing.. ..Oh, you’d love the Indians. The pure, Aryan Indians, not those one could see in Berlin, whose forms had become rigid and sterile through mingling with the Chinese.
    • Letter to Nele van de Velde, Frauenkirch, 1919/20; as quoted in "Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock", Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, pp. 224-225
  • They [his street scene paintings and drawings,he made in Berlin] originated in the years 1911-14, in one of the loneliest times of my life, during which an agonizing restlessness drove me out onto the streets day and night, which were filled with people and cars.
    • Notebook entry 'Meine Strasenbilder', 24 Augustus 1919; as quoted in "Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Meisterwerke der Druckgraphik", M. M. Moeller, Gerd Hatje, Stuttgart 1990 p. 184

1920sEdit

  • Many thanks for your letter and the Gauguin woodcuts.. .One can see, incidentally, that Gauguin had Persian miniatures, Indian batik and Chinese art in his very blood. The shapes of the birds and the horse show that clearly. But although it looks very well, Gauguin can’t stimulate us present-day artists much. We need a direct route from life to plastic form. And we get it by perpetually drawing everything we see.
    • Letter to Nele van de Velde, Frauenkirch, 29 November 1920; as quoted in "Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock", Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, pp. 224-225
  • You too, find release only in art, you are one of those privileged people who have that gift, and you will be free and at peace so long as you make use of it. Art gives us an inner superiority, for it has scope for every sensation of which human beings are capable, and first and foremost for love, which is the basis for knowledge. The artist loves without wanting to possess, and no one on earth can understand that except other artists, that is why other people think us mad.
    • Letter to Nele van de Velde, Frauenkirch, 29 November 1920; as quoted in "Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock", Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, pp. 224-225
  • All art needs this visible world and will always need it. Quite simply because, being accessible to all, it is the key to all other worlds.
    • 'Zeichnungen von E. L. Kirchner', (under his pseudonym Louis deMarsalle) E. L. Kirchner, Genius 2, Book 2, 1921, 216-234, reprinted by National Gallery, Washington D.C. 2003, p. 226
  • The technical procedures doubtless release energies in the artist that remain unused in the much more lightweight processes of drawing or painting [referring to his printmaking].
    • Quote from 'Uber Kirchners Graphik', (under his pseudonym Louis deMarsalle) E. L. Kirchner, Genius 3, Book 2, 1922, 251-63, reprinted by National Gallery, Washington D.C. 2003, p. 226
  • The bleak and yet so intimate nature of the mountains has had an enormous impact on the painter. It has deepened his love for his subjects and at the same time purged his vision of everything that is secondary. Nothing inessential appears in the paintings, but how delicately every detail is worked out! The creative thought emerges strongly and nakedly from the finished work. Kirchner is now so taken up with entirely new problems that one cannot apply the old criteria to him if one is to do justice to his work. Those who wish to classify him on the strength of his German paintings will be both disappointed and surprised. Far from destroying him, his serious illness has matured him. Besides his work on visible life, creativity stemming solely from the imagination has opened up its vast potential to him – for this the brief span of his life will probably be far from sufficient.
    • from the Preface of the catalog of Kirchner's Frankfurt exhibition in 1922, (written under his pseudonym Louis de Marsalle); as quoted in the biography-pdf of the Kirchner museum, Davos
  • ..the only certainty is that he [= Kirchner himself] creates from the forms of the visible world, however close or far from them he desires to or must come.
    • Quote from 'Ein neuer Naturalismus? Eine Rundfrage des Kunstblatts', in 'Das Kunstblatt' 9, 1922; p. 375
  • ..the feeling that pervades a city presented itself in the qualities of lines of force [slight impact of Futurism]
    • from Diary entry 'Das Werk', 1925, in "E. L. Kirchner Davoser Tagebuch", ed. Grisebach, p. 86
  • The beautiful, architectonically constructed, severely formed bodies of these women [his girlfriend in Berlin and life companion, Erna with her sister Gerda] replaced the soft Saxon physique.
    • In an unpublished manuscript 'Die Arbeit E. L. Kirchners', by E. L. Kirchner 1925 –1926; as quoted in "Kirchner and the Berlin street", ed. Deborah Wye, Moma, New York, 2008, p. 36
  • I begin with movement.. .I believe that all human visual experiences are born from movement..
    • An unpublished manuscript 'Die Arbeit E. L. Kirchners' by E. L. Kirchner 1925 –1926; as quoted in "Kirchner and the Berlin street", ed. Deborah Wye, Moma, New York, 2008, p. 39
  • Now I’m sitting quietly at home again and I’m happy to be able to work undisturbed. I made a lot of sketches of life in Germany and it was very intriguing to see life there [in Berlin for three weeks]. I was also glad to see the old pictures of Rembrandt, Dürer, etc. again and to have the confirmation and encouragement they gave me. As for the moderns, I saw damned little that gripped me.. .Modern German painting has moved so far away from me and become unintelligible in areas in which my work had, and still has, an influence; but people like Klee, Kandinsky, etc. have moved much closer to me again, in fact I value the Bauhaus more and more. These people are working and developing. You can see that there is development. And they love their work, which is the main thing.
    • Letter to Dr K. Hagemann, 26 March 1926 (short after a stay of 3 weeks in Berlin; as quoted in the biography-pdf of the Kirchner museum, Davos

1930sEdit

  • Here we have been hearing terrible rumours about torture of the Jews [by the Nazis] , but it’s all surely untrue. I’m a little tired and sad about the situation up there. There is a war in the air. In the museums, the hard-won cultural achievements of the last 20 years are being destroyed, and yet the reason why founded the Brücke was to encourage truly German art, made in Germany. And now it is supposed to be un-German [Degenerated Art / Entartete Kunst]. Dear God. It does upset me.
    • Letter to Karl Hagemann, May 1933; as quoted in the biography-pdf of the Kirchner museum, Davos
  • The new school [in the Swiss village Frauenkirch where Kirchner lived since c. 1918] was inaugurated yesterday. It was a celebration with songs, dancing and speeches, followed by drinking such as I have not seen or experienced in decades. Everyone sat in the "Post", the village council, the president of the council, the farmers, every one of one accord and friendly. They made a point of including me and so there I was, sitting once again amongst these people who had received me with such kindness and friendliness on the Alp twenty years ago. The relief [in the school, made by Kirchner] has found favour and was mentioned often in the speeches.
    • Letter to Dr Karl Hagemann, 19 October 1936; as quoted in the biography-pdf of the Kirchner museum, Davos
  • how the movement of the passers-by [in his Street scene painting of 1913] is comprehended in the rhombus of the heads which is twice repeated. In this way life and movement arise from an original geometric form. [Kirchner designed a diagram together with this line in the letter]
    • Letter to Karl Hagemann, 27 February 1937; as quoted in "Kirchner and the Berlin street", ed. Deborah Wye, Moma, New York, 2008, p. 81 - note 31

Quotes about KirchnerEdit

  • A tragedy had been quietly enacted here over the last few months. Because of the defamation in Germany [in 1937 a total of 639 works by Kirchner were confiscated by the Nazi-regime: Degenerate Art] and the failure of the November exhibition in Basle.. ..he [=Kirchner] chose a radiantly beautiful day, 15 June, to put an end to his life. I shall spare you the details. He had been suffering grievously until he was able to make this decision.
    • Letter from his wife Erna Kirchner to Karl Hagemann, 24 June 1938; as quoted in the biography-pdf of the Kirchner museum, Davos
  • Kirchner superimposes [in his series Street Scene painting from Berlin] a jaded artificiality over its excitement and glamour, situating the garish yet exotic streetwalker in an atmosphere suggesting loneliness and alienation, as well as agitation and danger. Paint is applied in spontaneous, splintered brushstrokes that create jagged forms and express an immediacy and energy that approximate the stimulating yet hectic urban envorinment.
    • w:Deborah Wye, in 'Introduction: Stetting the Stage', Kirchner and the Berlin street, MOMA, New York 2008, p. 17

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