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Ernest Ludwig Kirchner: The German Bridge to modernity

By Stephen Eaker

Ernest Ludwig Kirchner was born in 1880 in Chemitz, Germany, the son of a successful and renowned chemist. His father showed no resentment or resistance to his son’s desire to study art. Kirchner left for Dresden in the year 1901. He met other young revolutionary-minded painters and became the co-founder of the Die Brücke movement (The Bridge), and the leading figure in the group that would push German art into Modernism.

Lecture, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner: The German Bridge to modernity, Wed, May 30, 4:30pm, La Casa Verde, Prolongación de Pila Seca 65C, 100 pesos per person, Please make your reservations early as seats tend to go rapidly, 152-5237 or

The Die Brücke artists were a radical force in the Dresden art world, through their simplified, angular, disquieting, angry forms, and brash, contrasting, vibrant colors. They sent invitations to other modern artists in France to join their ranks. Matisse ignored his invitation, but Kees van Dongen, the brilliant colorist from Holland, accepted and sent numerous paintings to the German group in Dresden. Van Dongen’s works were exhibited alongside the canvases of the young German moderns, who were firmly established and recognized as a significant artistic movement before World War I.
Kirchner was saddened and horrified at the thought of impending war. He believed that if he were sent to the front with his pointed German helmet, he would certainly be killed. His terror of being sent to the front resulted in both a mental and physical crisis. In 1915 he was called up to serve in a field artillery regiment, but was discharged two months later on the grounds of poor health. His mental and emotional crisis resulted in a morphine addiction, which plagued him during the war years and also in Davos, Switzerland, where he went to recover after the war. He managed to rid himself of his addiction in 1921.
As Kirchner grew older, his art became less angry, calmer. It was no longer the work of the radical innovator of Dresden, the brilliant modern artist of Berlin before World War I. His work offered a more subdued and quieter approach to painting. As he evolved and matured to another level during the 1920s and early 30s, Kirchner witnessed the evolution of the Nazi party and its rise to power. By the early 1930s, Hitler´s views about modern art were very clear: he hated it, and the imagery of Die Brücke would be purged from German museums and conscience.
With the rise of the Nazis, the life of one of Germany’s greatest early 20th century modern art masters was coming apart. Kirchner was considered a degenerate artist. His mental and physical states deteriorated even more, and he reverted to his morphine addiction. In 1938, he took his own life. The Nazis burned his work or sold it abroad.

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