Ernst Ludwig Kircher (1880-1938) was a German artist and printmaker, famous for founding the artists’ group Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), which was influential in the foundation of Expressionism in 20th century art. Die Brücke was founded in 1905 and its artists intended to bridge between past and present styles of painting until they disbanded in 1913. Kirchner suffered a mental breakdown in 1915, after volunteering for military service during World War I.
Kirchner struggled with mental health for the rest of his life, and spent years in and out of sanatoriums before finally settling into rural life in Davos, Switzerland. He continued to paint prolifically and enjoyed recognition for his work, including being admitted to the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1931. As Hitler claimed power in Germany, Kirchner fell out of favor, and was expelled from the Prussian Academy in 1937 and labeled a “degenerate” by the Nazi party. His anxiety and depression increased as Hitler claimed more power throughout Europe; Kirchner succumbed to depression and died by suicide in 1938.
Dance Hall Bellevue [obverse], 1909/1910 and The Visit – Couple and Newcomer, 1922 are two of Kirchner’s pieces that are now housed at the National Gallery of Art in the U.S. Many have described his style as ‘frenzied’ or ‘rushed,’ especially during his early years in Die Brücke. Kirchner and his friends would paint with urgency, intending to capture life in the moment it appeared.
Appreciating Kirchner’s Dance Hall Bellevue [obverse]
Dance Hall Bellevue [obverse] was painted during the Die Brücke era, and it vibrates with the movement, life and energy that the group was trying to capture on canvas. The bright colors are influences from Fauvism, a movement in 20th century Paris led by Henri Matisse and based around vivid expressionistic uses of color.
The Visit – Couple and Newcomer
The Visit – Couple and Newcomer is a later example of the same evocative color scheme, with wild colors juxtaposed on top of a nondescript scene to supercharge it with energy. Unrealistic figures and architectural distortions in the piece draw the viewer in by challenge the norm of order and space in the visual realm.
Embracing the Energy in Modern Art
Kirchner’s Expressionism used distortions of reality to evoke feeling in the viewer and express emotion in the scene. The vibrant colors are not representative of the actual color of the subjects, but the heightened emotional energy imbued in the subjects. The discrepancies in form and the undiscernible perspectives subvert the viewer’s ability to understand the paintings and force them instead to imagine them.
Upon viewing examples of modern art such as Kirchner’s pieces, the experience is not what you see, but what you feel when you look at the piece. To enjoy modern art is to abandon representation and embrace emotion. When you embrace the feeling of the piece, you will be able to distill down from the colors and lines to connect with the energy radiating in each brush stroke, mix of colors and contrast of shape.