Ways to support us
About The Art Story a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Org
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Photo

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

German Painter and Printmaker

Born: May 6, 1880 - Aschaffenburg, Bavaria
Died: June 15, 1938 - near Davos, Switzerland
"A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things."
1 of 6
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Signature
"My paintings are allegories not portraits."
2 of 6
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Signature
"The heaviest burden of all is the pressure of the war and the increasing superficiality. It gives me incessantly the impression of a bloody carnival. I feel as though the outcome is in the air and everything is topsy-turvy.. All the same, I keep on trying to get some order in my thoughts and to create a picture of the age out of confusion, which is after all my function."
3 of 6
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Signature
"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."
4 of 6
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Signature
"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."
5 of 6
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Signature
"driven by a totally naive, pure need to bring art and life into harmony with each other."
6 of 6
writing about scenes of daily life depicted by Die Brücke group

Summary of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a driving force in the Die Brücke group that flourished in Dresden and Berlin before World War I, and he has come to be seen as one of the most talented and influential of Germany's Expressionists. Motivated by the same anxieties that gripped the movement as a whole - fears about humanity's place in the modern world, its lost feelings of spirituality and authenticity - Kirchner had conflicting attitudes to the past and present. An admirer of Albrecht Dürer, he revived the old art of woodblock printing, and saw himself in the German tradition, yet he rejected academic styles and was inspired by the modern city. After the war, illness drove him to settle in Davos, Switzerland, where he painted many landscapes, and, ultimately, he found himself ostracized from mainstream German art. When the Nazis rose to power in the early 1930s he was also a victim of their campaign against "Degenerate Art." Depressed and ill, he eventually committed suicide.


  • The human figure was central to Kirchner's art. It was vital to the pictures that took his studio as their backdrop - pictures in which he captured models posing as well as aspects of his bohemian life. For Kirchner, the studio was an important nexus where art and life met. But the figure also informed his images of Berlin, in which the demeanor of figures in the street often seemed more important than the surrounding cityscape. And, most commonly, he depicted the figure in movement, since he believed that this better expressed the fullness and vitality of the human body.
  • Kirchner's Expressionistic handling of paint represented a powerful reaction against the Impressionism that was dominant in German painting when he first emerged. For him, it marked a reaction against the staid civility of bourgeois life. He would always deny that he was influenced by other artists, yet Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch were clearly important in shaping his style. Fauvism was particularly significant in directing his palette, encouraging him to use flat areas of unbroken, often unmixed color and simplified forms.
  • Kirchner believed that powerful forces - enlivening yet also destructive - dwelt beneath the veneer of Western civilization, and he believed that creativity offered a means of harnessing them. This outlook shaped the way in which he depicted men and women in his pictures, as people who often seem at war with themselves or their environment. It also encouraged his interest in Primitivism, in particular that of the Pacific Islands, for he considered that this work offered a more direct picture of those elemental energies. Primitive art was also important in directing Kirchner to a more simplified treatment of form. Primitive sculpture undoubtedly inspired his own approach to the medium and his love of rough-hewn, partially painted surfaces.

Biography of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Photo

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was born on May 6, 1880 in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, and began studying architecture at the Dresden Technical High School in 1901 at the encouragement of his parents. While attending classes, he became close friends with Fritz Bleyl, who shared his radical outlook on art and nature. During this time, Kirchner chose to dedicate himself to fine art rather than architecture.

Important Art by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Progression of Art
Nude Dancers (Nackte Tanzerinnen) (1909)

Nude Dancers (Nackte Tanzerinnen)

This woodcut print features a group of voluptuous nude female dancers on stage. Created during the Die Brucke era, the work exemplifies the energetic atmosphere of a meeting in Kirchner's studio, a recurrent scene in his pictures. In an attempt to revive the traditional printmaking, Kirchner created expressive, dynamic black lines by aggressively carving away the woodblock; the large areas of light and dark create an ambiguous sense of spatial depth on a two dimensional surface. Kirchner renders a balance between the two extremes (light and dark, bold and delicate) to create a harmonious composition, allowing the eye to sweep across the picture plane. The conscious decision to leave white areas unrefined, making the process of carving visible, is a rejection of conventional academic teaching, a philosophy typified by Die Brucke.

Woodcut print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Marzella (1909-10)


Around the time this picture was painted Kirchner was spending time around the Moritzberg lakes, and the girl depicted is the daughter of a circus artiste's widow that he met there. Emblematic of his Die Brucke phase, Marzella is a provocative depiction of a young, pre-pubescent girl. The youth of the figure coupled with the intense gaze and heavily made-up face give the appearance of uncanny maturity. Unnatural colors and self-conscious body language add to the unease in the composition. The painting is an example of a technique of rapid sketching used by members of Die Brucke, who believed this process allowed them to capture the "soul" of the subject. The picture is also indicative of the influence of Edvard Munch on Kirchner's work, since the composition appears to be based on Munch's Puberty (1892).

Oil on canvas

Deutsch: Nollendorfplatz (1912)

Deutsch: Nollendorfplatz

Deutsch: Nollendorfplatz reveals Kirchner's shift in subject matter from the female nude to depictions of the metropolis. Here, the perspective is skewed, a clear rejection of his previous study of architecture. The quick, gestural use of line creates a sense of immediacy and speed within the piece, capturing the essence of a busy German city. The use of clashing blues and yellows to depict the cityscape is typical of Kirchner's style during the Die Brucke years, though the distorted imagery of the city may also have been inspired by an exhibition of Italian Futurist art that he saw in the year that this was painted.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Street, Berlin (1913)

Street, Berlin

The vigorously painted Street, Berlin explores the figure of the city prostitute: chic streetwalkers who have angular, mask-like faces. The two women proudly walk down the busy, tilted street of cloaked men with more sullen expressions. Street, Berlin accentuates the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes' haughty fashion. The luxury and anxious energy in painting also serve as a commentary on a pre-World War I German culture, as Kirchner believed increasing political tensions further detached urban individuals from society. The Streetwalker series, of which this is a famous example, is one of the most admired areas of Kirchner's art. The models for the series may have been dancer Gerda Schilling and her sister Edna, who later became the artist's lover. He once described the two women as having "beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies", and his encounter with them undoubtedly influenced this series of figure paintings.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Self-Portrait as a Soldier (1915)

Self-Portrait as a Soldier

Self-Portrait as a Soldier examines the psychological distress experienced by Kirchner during his service in the military. He was a reluctant soldier and soon became preoccupied with avoiding service, and following a self-induced psychosis, aided by his use of alcohol and drugs, he was discharged. The painting displays a uniformed Kirchner standing in his studio, smoking a cigarette. His right hand is severed, symbolizing his trauma and possibly also his anxiety of his loss of manhood; the motif is based on Van Gogh's Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear (1889), a picture the artist painted after he too had inflicted injuries upon himself. In the background of Kirchner's picture stands a nude who bears a resemblance to his lover of the time, Erna Schilling.

Oil on canvas - Allen Memorial Art Museum, Ohio

Blick auf Davos (1924)

Blick auf Davos

After being discharged from the military, Kirchner took refuge in Davos, where the Alps surrounding his home provided a new kind of bucolic inspiration. The painting depicts a cool mountain range embracing a small town, a pictorial sigh of relief following the end of World War I. Inspired by van Gogh's landscape paintings and the work of the Fauvists, Kirchner used pulsating shades of violet, blue, green, and yellow to depict the rural scene. The swooping perspective is similar to Kirchner's early paintings of urban life.

Oil on canvas

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
Open Influences
Close Influences

Useful Resources on Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

video clips
Do more

Content compiled and written by Larissa Borteh

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Larissa Borteh
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 22 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]