Ernest Ludwig Kirchner was born on 6 May, 1880 in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria. His parents were of Prussian descent and his mother was a descendant of the Huguenots, a fact to which Kirchner often referred to in his art. Kirchner became a German expressionist painter and print-maker and was one of the founders of the artists group Die Brücke (Trans: The Bridge: Between the past and the present”); a key group leading to the foundation of Expressionism in 20th Century art.
During his artistic career, Kirchner’s studio became a venue which overthrew social conventions to allow casual love-making and frequent nudity. Group life-drawing sessions took place using models such “Isabella”, a fifteen-year-old girl who became a frequent nude model for him. However, in 1906, he met Doris Große, who became his favoured model. He also became a member of Berlin’s ‘New Secession‘ school in 1910 and the following year he began a relationship with Erna Schilling that lasted the rest of his life.
During the next two years, he painted a series of “Großstadtbilder” (metropole pictures) showing the streets of Berlin, with the central characters of street walkers.
According to Wikipedia: at the onset of WW1, Kirchner volunteered for military service. He was sent to Halle an der Saale to train as a driver, but was discharged in 1917 after recovering from a mental breakdown, a strong dependency on veronal and alcoholism.
Kirchner returned to his art and held several exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland in 1920. By 1921, Nina Hard would become an important model for him and would be featured in many of his works. He overcame his illness, although he was still dependent on morphine. His life partner, Erna, maintained their home in Berlin and continued to run their business. The Nazis branded his work as ‘degenerate’ and by 1937 at the Degenerate Art Exhibition, 639 of his works were either sold or destroyed and the Berlin Academy of Arts expelled him. He then moved to Frauenkirch near Davos, in Switzerland.
Throughout 1938, Kirchner became increasingly upset by the German annexation of Austria and was disturbed by the idea that Switzerland might be invaded. So, on 15 June 1938, Kirchner took his own life by gunshot in front of his home in Frauenkirch. He was laid to rest in the Waldfriedhof cemetery. Erna continued to live in the house until her death in 1945.
In 1969, a major retrospective of Kirchner’s paintings, drawings and prints traveled to the Seattle Art Museum, the Pasadena Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston.
- At an auction in November 2006 at Christie’s, Kirchner’s Street Scene, Berlin (1913) fetched $38 million, which was a record for the artist.
- In 2008 the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a major exhibition that “probably comprised the very best of his oeuvre.”