As an example of a key piece of research, I will be looking at Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Das Soldatenbad (The Solider Bath or Artillerymen) 1915.
Saturday 30 January 2021
Know Your Onions! Key Research: Das Soldatenbad by Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) started his career studying Architecture at the Dresden Technical High School in 1901. Kirchner soon realised that with his radical ideas and outlook he would move into fine art. In 1905 with his friends Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, he created Die Brücke ("The Bridge."). The idea was to create a movement that bridged classical style and avant-garde thinking. 'Die Brücke expressed extreme emotion through crude lines and a vibrant, unnatural color palette.' (The Art Story 2021) Kirchner was particularly interested in Albrecht Dürer and much of his work was inspired by Dürer's wood cuttings and the neo-impressionists. De Brucke ended in 1913 by this time Kirchner wanted to find his own identity as an artist, moving away from the nude and the studio, Kirchner wanted to look at the city streets, alienation and industrialisation. During this time 'Kirchner depicted crowds of people with bold, expressive brushstrokes and in brash colors of blue, green, orange, and pink. Perspective was often skewed, the figures looming and teetering either toward or away from the picture plane, as a rejection of the academic conventions that he learned in his architecture courses.' (The Art Story 2021).
In 1914 Kirchner volunteered for military service in World War I and discharged in 1915 as he suffered a nervous breakdown. The painting Das Soldatenbad was painted immediately after his release along with other works such as Self-Portrait as a Soldier. This depicts himself as a soldier with an amputated hand however Kircher did not lose a hand in the war.
In 1918 Kirchner moved to Switzerland and focussed on mountain scenes. 'By 1933, Kirchner’s art was declared "degenerate" by the Nazis. As a result, over 600 of his pieces were confiscated from public museums, and were either destroyed or sold. Due to the distress of his art being destroyed and the Nazi occupation close to his home, he committed suicide in 1938 in Frauenkirch, Switzerland.' (artnet 2021)
This painting was originally purchased by Alfred Flechtheim in 1919, in 1935 Fletchman 'wrote in a 1935 letter to the Museum of Modern Art’s founding director Alfred H. Barr Jr.: “I lost all my money and all my pictures.” ' (Wexelman A. 05/10/2018) as the Nazis had raided his house, Fletchmann died in 1937 and his family has since had a long battle to recover the picture that rightly belonged to them.
Kirchner created this painting to show the harsh realities of war, he painted this immediately upon his release from military service. Kirchner wanted to show the human form in 'its most nascent, uninhibited state. The mask-like faces of the soldiers, nudity, and angular gestures in Das Soldatenbad reveal the artist’s preference for spontaneous, unmediated depictions of the body, divorced from the rigorous constraints of academic painting.' (Sothebys 2020). The power of the work is the vulnerability of the naked soldiers with the dressed guard shouting at them as they are pressed closely together under the heat of the shower. The furnace making this environment volatile and inhuman.
Kirchner made sketches of this work prior to the final painting, this one just sketched in ink pen. It was common for him to base his final paintings on his sketches. 'He never made use of detailed preparatory drawings. He explained that they were not a “benefit,” since “forms arise and undergo change during the process of work….” Jotted-down impressions found in his sketchbooks provided the seeds for paintings of all kinds.' (MOMA n.d)
Kirchner liked to experiment with many techniques and mediums from charcoal, pastel, oil and ink and though these mediums he believed they all offered different ways to expression in his work. 'Kirchner believed this kind of visual discovery was a prime responsibility of the artist and he talked about “a vital love of life”10 derived from such drawings. Yet what is revealed in them is not only the essence of the observed phenomenon, but also the artist’s own temperament.' (MOMA n.d) Das Soldatenbad also references works by Cezanne and Degas and later on would influence neo expressionists such as George Baselitz.
Kirchner was passionate about his work and created hundreds of paintings and drawings in his short lifetime. He carried with him a diary/sketchbook and drew and wrote through the day. He also was very keen on photography and produced thousands of negatives. He loved to give work away to friends and colleagues. I will leave you now with a few thoughts from Kirchner himself...
'You can do anything. Nothing is forbidden.'
'If suffering can be transformed into creativity... I want to try it.'
'A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness. In fact, he creates new appearances of things.'
Wexelman A. (05/10/2018) Artsy Editorial: The Guggenheim returned a Kirchner painting to the heirs of a Jewish art dealer.[Online] Available from: https://www.artsy.net/news/artsy-editorial-guggenheim-returned-kirchner-painting-heirs-jewish-art-dealer (Accessed 30/01/21)
Sothebys (2020) Masterpieces from the Alfred Flechtheim Collection: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Das Soldatenbad (Artillerymen) [Online] Available from: https://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2018/impressionist-modern-art-evening-sale-n09930/lot.22.html (Accessed 30/01/21)
The Art Story (2021) Biography of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner [Online] Available from: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/kirchner-ernst-ludwig/life-and-legacy/ (Accessed 30/01/21)
Artnet (2021) Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Biography [Onlie] Available from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/ernst-ludwig-kirchner/biography (Accessed 30/01/21)
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (2021) Ernst Ludwig Kirchner [Online] Available from: http://www.ernstludwigkirchner.org/(Accessed 30/01/21)
Bowness A. (1985) Modern European Art. Thames & Hudson. London
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (2021) Britannica Academic. Retrieved 30 January 2021, from https://academic-eb-com.proxy.library.dmu.ac.uk/levels/collegiate/article/Ernst-Ludwig-Kirchner/45599
MOMA (n.d.) Kirchner's Working Process [Online] Available from: https://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/learn/courses/Kirchner.pdf (Accessed 01/02/2021)