Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German, Aschaffenburg 1880 - 1938 Davos)
Standing Female Nude, 1919
Softwood (probably Swiss stone pine), oiled and painted
38 x 6 1/4 x 4 1/4 in. (96.5 x 15.9 x 11.5 cm);
Base: 1 1/4 x 7 1/2 x 6 5/16 in. (3.3 x 19.1 x 16.1 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1955
The smooth, svelte forms and finely detailed features of Kirchner's Standing Female Nude of 1919 depart from the raw, angular Cubist style of the artist's earlier work. The psychological and aesthetic impact of this figure is fueled by Kirchner's recent assimilation of African and Indian sources and his ambition to forge an expressive formal language.
Kirchner's sculptural oeuvre of over one hundred pieces was developed in tandem with his painted work.1 In 1925, writing under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle, Kirchner explained that his painting and carving addressed similar problems: "In his [Kirchner's] paintings of still-lifes and interiors there often can be seen figures which had been carved by him previously. Thus, he poured the form from one technique into the other, until he found the most expressive solution."2
Kirchner's encounter with Palau and Cameroon sculpture at the Dresden Ethnographic Museum in 1910 had a decided impact on his work in both two and three dimensions. He also copied figures from photographs of the figural frescoes of Ajanta, in India, in 1910/11. Although Kirchner was fascinated by the angularity and compact forms of African sculpture, "his art attained liberation and independence by adopting the swelling physicality and mature plasticity" of the Indian carvings.3
Having spent the aftermath of his traumatizing war years in various sanatoriums, the recovering Kirchner settled with Erna Schilling in his new house "in den Lärchen" near Frauenkirch in Davos in September 1918, and began furnishing it with pieces carved in "Arvenholtz," or Swiss stone pine.4 As he had done previously in Berlin and Dresden, Kirchner sought to create a unified environment in which his paintings and sculptures harmonized with textiles, ornaments, and furniture also of his design. Besides crafting such things as chairs and a bed for Erna, he carved doors for his studio with the relief Dance between Women, an allegory of the hectic, erotically charged life in Berlin that he had left behind, on one side, and March to the Meadows, expressing the peace and order of the Alps, on the other.5
The subject of Adam and Eve is a recurring motif in Kirchner's carvings of 1919. In the context of his depictions of rural life, the artist's preoccupation with this subject expresses his desire to return to nature, to man's biblical origins, and to renewed health and creativity. Eve, as the archetypal woman, may have symbolized for Kirchner the end of his "dance between women."6 The Oberlin work, one of a few independent sculptures from this period, was given the title Eve in 1952,7 but there is no evidence that Kirchner specifically had Eve in mind in creating this work.8
The Oberlin nude can be compared to a standing femal nude in Frankfurt, which has similar smooth, softly rounded, and slender forms.9 Both nudes almost certainly represent Erna Schilling, whom Kirchner increasinglyused as a model after his move to Davos.
The dating of the Oberlin and Frankfurt sculptures has been controversial.10 Noting their resemblance to a woodcut of 1911-12, and to a painting of a nude done in 1910,11 and also depending partly on Kirchner's notoriously unreliable dating, some critics have assigned the Frankfurt figure to 1912 and the Oberlin figure to 1914.12 Yet sculpture that can be securely dated to 1912-14 reveals a much stronger influence from African sculpture than is evident in the Oberlin work.13 While a strong affinity to the woodcut of 1911-12 cannot be denied,14 Kirchner's Boy with a Hatchet (Davos, In den Lärchen), for which a date of 1919-20 is certain, functions as a more secure point of reference for dating the Oberlin and Frankfurt nudes.15 Almost identical in size--63 cm for the female nudes and 62 cm for the boy--the freestanding sculptures of 1919-20 are connected also by the fine modeling of their faces, their closed forms with softly undulating lines, and their smoothly polished surfaces.
Like the Davos Boy with a Hatchet, the Oberlin Nude stands on straight legs, which form an almost columnar support for the torso. The axis is twisted and shifted by the sharply raised proper right shoulder of the nude. In contrast to the Frankfurt nude, which is evenly coated with paint, very little paint was applied to either the Davos Boy or the Oberlin nude, leaving the oiled wood grain exposed.
Work (C) Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a draftsman,16 a printmaker,17 a painter,18 sculptor, and photographer;19 he also designed textiles and rugs, wrote diaries20 and theoretical essays on his art under the pseudonym Louis de Marsalle, and engaged in a voluminous correspondence.21 He was a dominant figure in the German Expressionist movement.
Kirchner was born on 6 May 1880 in Aschaffenburg to an upper-middle-class family. He studied architecture at the Technical University of Saxony in Dresden, following his father's wishes, and then enrolled at the Technische Hochschule (Technical School) in the Lehr- und Versuchatelier für Angewandte und Freie Kunst (Teaching and Experimental Studio for Applied and Fine Art) in Munich. There he was exposed to a variety of influences: the exoticism and primitivism of Art Nouveau, the art of Vasilij Kandinsky and his Phalanx group, Post-Impressionism, drawings by Rembrandt, and prints by Dürer. In 1904 Kirchner returned to Dresden to continue his study of architecture and began to paint with Erich Keckel. Within two years the two artists, along with Fritz Bleyl, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Emil Nolde had formed Die Bücke, an association that lasted until 1913.
From 1913 until 1915 Kirchner painted large street scenes of Berlin showing elegant and colorful young women caught up in the nervous, hectic activities of city life. In these Expressionist images, Kirchner abandoned his earlier fluid Art Nouveau style for the quick, broken crosshatchings and angular brushstrokes of his mature work.
The war years changed his artistic production and changed his life. Partially cured, he settled on the Lärchen years later on the Wildboden at the entrance of the Sertig-valley near Frauenkirch. His companion and executrix, Erna Schilling, took care of his Berlin studio.
Kirchner went on to have major exhibitions in Berlin (1921), Basel (1923), Berne (1933), and Detroit (1937). But from 1926 he suffered from depression, which worsened in 1937 when 639 of his works were confiscated from public collections; thirty-two were included in Hitler's "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art) exhibition held in Munich. In despair about the political situation in Germany, his physical health, and overwhelming loneliness, Kirchner committed suicide on 15 June 1938.
For a detailed biography, see Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880-1938(exh. cat., Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1980), pp. 46-74.
Estate of the artist
With Curt Valentin Galleries, New York (October 1950), from whom purchased in 1955
New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, 1952. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. 16 April - 10 May. Cat. no. 36 (as "Eva").
Cincinnati Art Museum, 1953. In the Flat and the Round. 29 February - 25 March. Unnumbered catalogue.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1966. Treasures from the Allen Memorial Art Museum. 21 July - 11 September. No cat.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983-84. German Expressionist Sculpture. 30 October - 2 January (exhibition traveled to Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; and Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle; Oberlin piece shown at Los Angeles only). Cat. no. 69.
de Marsalle, Louis (pseud.). "Über Kirchners Graphik." Genius, Bilder und Aufsätze zu alter und neuer Kunst. Vol. 2. Munich, 1921, pp. 250-63 (as "Stehendes Mädchen").
de Marsalle, Louis (pseud). "Über die plastischen Arbeiten E. L. Kirchners." Der Cicerone 17, no. 14 (1925), pp. 695-701 (as "Traurige Frau").
Hamilton, Chloe. "Modern Sculpture: New Additions to the Art Museum." Oberlin Alumni Magazine 52, no. 6 (May 1956), pp. 12-13.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 193 (as Eve, and with incorrect accession number); no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 276.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 199-200, fig. 271.
Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 22, no. 2 (Winter 1970), p. 57 (correction to Stechow catalogue).
Watson, Katharine J. "Sculpture: Hellenistic to the Twentieth Century." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), pp. 103-04, fig. 10.
Barron, Stephanie, ed. German Expressionist Sculpture. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984, cat. no. 69, pp. 115, 119, color ill. p. 123; in German edition, Skulptur des Expressionismus, cat. no. 69, pp. 110, 120, color ill. p. 70.
The figure is carved of a single piece of softwood, probably "Arvenholtz" or Swiss stone pine Pinus Cembra, leaving the heartwood intact, and is stained light brown.22 The figure's hair, eyes, eyebrows, and pubic area are painted black. The sculpture is doweled to a square, black-painted base.
Numerous checks and cracks run vertically throughout the piece. There are two significant cracks running through the head, with a long iron nail spanning the longer of these. An additional significant crack extends between her breasts and another shorter crack runs between her buttocks. There appears to be a small check opening up on her proper right hand; checking is also visible on the inside surfaces of both legs.
The crack in the figure's chest has been repaired with a wooden fill. There appear to be several breaks, repaired with adhesive, in her proper right foot; and another, fixed with an iron brad, is visible in the toe. There may also be a repair on the inside of her proper left foot.
A note in the curatorial file indicates that the repairs were certainly completed prior to 1961 and may have been performed by the artist himself.
1. From 1909, Kirchner's paintings often quote his sculptures, as do his photographs from after 1910.
2. Louis de Marsalle (pseud.), "Über die plastischen Arbeiten von E. L. Kirchner," Der Cicerone 18, no. 2 (1925), pp. 692-701.
3. Wolfgang Henze, "Kirchner," in German Expressionist Sculpture, ed. Stephanie Barron (exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983-84), p. 114.
4. On the house, see Eberhard W. Kornfeld, Gut in den Lärchen: E. L. Kirchner Haus 1918-1923 (Bern, 1996).
5. See Karlheinz Gabler, "E. L. Kirchner's Doppelrelief: Tanz zwischen den Frauen - Alpaufzug: Bemerkungen zu einem Hauptwerk expressionistischer Plastik," Brücke-Archiv, vol. 11 (Berlin, 1979-80), pp. 3-12.
6. Kirchner's relationship with Erna, whom he named executrix in 1917, was not without problems, which were alleviated by her frequent trips to Berlin, leaving Kirchner in the solitude of his Alpine home. He also developed strong friendships with the dancer Nina Hagen, whom he used as a model in 1921, and Nele van de Velde, who visited in 1920 and exchanged letters with him.
7. In Ernst Ludwig Kirchner(exh. cat., New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, 1952), cat. no. 30.
8. Kirchner published the Oberlin work in 1921 under the name "Stehendes Mädchen"; see Louis de Marsalle (pseud.), "Über Kirchners Graphik," Genius, Bilder und Aufsätze zu alter und neuer Kunst, vol. 2 (Munich, 1921), pp. 252. In Kirchner's inventory for his exhibition in Basel in 1923 he listed a sculpture, Traurige Frau(Melancholy Woman), that may also have been identical with the Oberlin nude.
9. Painted wood, signed in pencil on the sole of the left foot, 63 cm high, Frankfurt, Städtische Galerie im Städelsches Kunstinstitut, inv. SGPL 206. Reproduced in German Expressionist Sculpture, ed. Stephanie Barron (exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983-84), cat. no. 64. This undated work has been consistently referred to as Nacktes Mädchen(Nude Girl).
10. For a detailed discussion of the dating problems, see Martin Schwander, "Der Tanz zwischen den Frauen: Zu Ernst Ludwig Kirchners Skulptur der frühen Schweizer Jahre," Bruckmanns Pantheon 44 (1986), pp. 102-11.
11. Nude with Black Hat, 1911-12, woodcut; Annemarie and Wolf-Dieter Dube, E. L. Kirchner: Das Graphische Werk (Munich, 1967; 3rd ed., 1991), no. 207. See also Wolfgang Henze, "Kirchner," in German Expressionist Sculpture, ed. Stephanie Barron (exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983-84), cat. no. 63. The painting is Stehender Akt mit Hut, 1910, oil on canvas, 205 x 65 cm, Frankfurt, Städtische Galerie im Städelsches Kunstinstitut.
12. These are the dates given by Wolfgang Henze, "Kirchner," in German Expressionist Sculpture, ed. Stephanie Barron (exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983-84), pp. 113-23.
13. The Dancing Woman (1911, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum) and Female Dancer with Extended Leg (1913, private collection) both display a rough-hewn surface with visible chisel marks, and twisted, angular poses. See Wolfgang Henze, "Kirchner," in German Expressionist Sculpture, ed. Stephanie Barron (exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983-84), cat. nos. 61 and 66, respectively.
14. As suggested by Martin Schwander ("Der Tanz zwischen den Frauen," Bruckmanns Pantheon 44 , p. 106), Kirchner consciously evokes his earlier happier and more productive phase in the two nudes through the similarity of the physical type to Dodo, his Berlin muse until 1911, when he met Erna Schilling. Kirchner's Davos diary indicates that ongoing difficulties with Erna moved him to conjure up this period of inspired productivity. Kirchner's personal troubles might explain the changed mood of the nudes, which appear sad and reflective, in marked contrast to the expansive sensuality radiated by the woodcut of Dodo in her black hat.
15. Boy with a Hatchet(Junger Staäer mit Beil) is now back in Kirchner's house "In den Lärchen " in Davos and is illustrated in Eberhard W. Kornfeld, Gut in den Lärchen: E. L. Kirchner Haus 1918-1923(Bern, 1996). p. 85. See also Martin Schwander, "Der Tanz zwischen den Frauen," Bruckmanns Pantheon 44 , p. 105, fig. 4. The style of Boy with a Hatchet is in contrast to Kirchner's carved furnishings and studio doors, which are closer to African models in the more angular carving and visible chisel marks.
16. Will Grohmann, Zeichnungen von Ernst Ludwig Kirchner(Dresden, 1925); and Roman N. Ketterer, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Zeichnungen und Pastelle(Stuttgart, 1979).
17. Magdalena Möller, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Meisterwerke der Druckgraphik(exh. cat., Brücke-Museum, Berlin, 1990); and Gustav Schiefler, Die Graphik Ernst Ludwig Kirchners, vol. 1 (Berlin, 1926), until 1916; vol. 2 (Berlin, 1931), 1916-27; and Annemarie and Wolf-Dieter Dube, E. L. Kirchner: Das Graphische Werk, 2 vols. (Munich, 1967; 3rd ed. 1991).
18. Donald E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Mit einem kritischen Katalog der Gemälde(Munich, 1968).
19. Karlheinz Gabler, E. L. Kirchner. Vol. 25, Dokumente, Fotos - Schriften - Briefe (exh. cat., Museum der Stadt Aschaffenburg, 1980/81).
20. Lothar Grisebach, E. L. Kirchners Davoser Tagebuch(Cologne, 1968).
21. Nele van de Velde, E. L. Kirchner, Briefe an Nele und Henry van de Velde(Munich, 1961); Wolfgang Henze, ed., Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Gustav Schiefler, Briefwechsel 1910-1935/38(Stuttgart, 1990); Annemarie Dube-Heynig, in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Postkarten und Briefe an Erich Heckel im Altonaer Museum in Hamburg, ed. Roman N. Ketterer (Cologne, 1984).
22. On 22 November 1918 Kirchner wrote "Ich habe jetzt ein wunderbares Holz für Holzschnitzerei, das 'Arvenholz'. Das schneidet sich so leicht, wie ich noch keines gehabt habe. Die Arven wachsen ganz an der Schneegrenze. Das Holz is sehr widerstandsfähig trotz seiner Weichheit." (I have now a wonderful wood for carving, the "Arvenholz." The wood is easier to carve than any I have ever tried. The Arven grows right on the snowline [actually the tree line]. The wood is very solid despite its softness.) Quoted in Eberhard W. Kornfeld, Gut in den Lärchen: E. L. Kirchner Haus 1918-1923 (Bern, 1996), pp. 70, translated here by Stephan Jost. In Kornfeld, p. 85, both the Boy with the Axe in Davos and the female nude in Frankfurt are described as "Arvenholz." If the Oberlin sculpture is also "Arvenholz," it must have been carved after November 1918.