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26 June, 2013
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The type of art a country produces says a lot about what that country is. For example, American art is so varied and ranges over such a wide spectrum of styles and subject matter, it would at first seem to deny such a generalisation, except that this broadness is, in fact, representative of the extreme diversity that is so quintessentially American. In French art, we see an addiction to luscious, flamboyant colour, a stubbornly independent stylistic creed, and a deep, abiding interest in complex design relationships, all characteristic of the French people as a whole. English art is restrained, highly organised compositionally, intellectual, and technically studied in its proper, Anglo-Saxon steadfastness. Dutch art has traditionally been quietly materialistic, intensely realistic, conservative in its use of colour, tightly drawn to the point of tedium, and perhaps most of all, amazingly abundant. In each case, art paints a portrait of the nation, its people, and its national identity.

I think with varying degrees of accuracy, one could go on and on in this discussion, but in the case of one particular country, the relationship between the nation and its art is so closely tied that one word says it all--Expressionism. And that country is Germany. German Expressionism is so German that we are tempted to make of this style of painting a single word. Of course there were the French Fauves and branches of Expressionism in nearly every country espousing Western art, and even though it relies on the influence of Matisse and van Gogh for its roots, Expressionism is German to the core. And one artist in particular stands as the colour bearer of this style both literally and figuratively. His name is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Kirchner's art is first and foremost about colour. Born in 1880, he first studied architecture; then, at the age of 22, started to paint. He was moved first by van Gogh, then Matisse, and eventually Kandinsky. But unlike his fellow countryman, he never veered off into abstraction. His early work looks French, Fauvist, more like van Gogh than some van Goghs I've seen (as in Doris with a Collar, 1906). But after 1913 and Die Brücke (The Bridge), a group of like-minded artists which he helped found, his work took on a sharp, angular, Teutonic quality so characteristic of pre-W.W.I. German society it makes one shudder. Whether painting dour, well-dressed Berliners parading the streets of their city (as in Berlin Street Scene, 1913) or stark, sturdy, architectonic nudes, (as in Nude Model, 1914) there is a strident quality to his lines, colours, and painting technique that mark his Expressionism as more German than sauerkraut.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
9 April 1999

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