Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a German expressionist painter and printmaker and one of the founders of the artists group Die Brücke or "The Bridge", a key group leading to the foundation of Expressionism in 20th-century art. He was born in Bavaria from Prussian parents and studied architecture at the Royal technical university of Dresden. In 1905, Kirchner, along withother architecture students founded the artists group Die Brücke ("The Bridge"). From then on, he committed himself to art. The group aimed to eschew the prevalent traditional academic style and find a new mode of artistic expression, which would form a bridge (hence the name) between the past and the present. They responded both to past artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder, as well as contemporary international avant-garde movements.
Their group was one of the seminal ones, which in due course had a major impact on the evolution of modern art in the 20th century and created the style of Expressionism. Kirchner's studio became a venue which overthrew social conventions to allow casual love-making and frequent nudity. In September and October 1906, the first group exhibition was held, focused on the female nude, in Dresden. In 1911, he moved to Berlin and began a relationship with Erna Schilling that lasted the rest of his life.
In 1913, his writing of Chronik der Brücke (Brücke chronicle) led to the ending of the group. At this time, he established an individual identity with his first solo exhibition. At the onset of the First World War, Kirchner volunteered for military service. But his riding instructor arranged him to be discharged after a mental breakdown. Kirchner then returned to Berlin and continued to work, until he was admitted to Dr Kohnstamm’s sanatorium in December 1915 where he was diagnosed with a strong dependency on Veronal and alcoholism.
Kirchner produced many oil paintings and drawings and sold many works during 1916 and was doing well financially. In December, he suffered from a nervous breakdown and was admitted to Dr Edel’s sanatorium in Berlin. Kirchner went to several treatment and sanatorium but still producing painting at the same time. After some times, he overcame his illness and, although he was still dependent on morphine, his doctor was slowly decreasing his doses. Kirchner continued to work through 1919 and 1920 as his health also rapidly improved.
His reputation grew with several exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland in 1920. He was provided with many subjects to paint as he came to know the farmers of the area. In 1921, there was a major display of Kirchner's work in Berlin; the reviews were favourable. In 1925, Kirchner became close friends with fellow artist, Albert Müller and his family. Rot-Blau, a new art group based in Basle, was formed by Hermann Scherer, Albert Müller, Paul Camenisch and Hans Schiess, who all visited Kirchner and worked under his guidance. Kirchner continued to work in Frauenkirch, his style growing increasingly abstract. In 1929, Kirchner was forced to distance himself from Rot-Blau after they pledged allegiance to him, which upset Kirchner greatly.
In 1930, Kirchner began to experience health problems due to smoking. In 1931, he was made a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. As the Nazi party took power in Germany, it became impossible for Kirchner to sell his paintings. In 1933, he was forced to resign from the Prussian Academy of Arts. Kirchner became increasingly disturbed by the situation in Germany. Throughout 1936 and 1937, Kirchner began to experience health problems again. In 1937, the Degenerate Art Exhibition took place in Germany; a total of 639 works by Kirchner were taken out of museums and 25 were displayed in the exhibition. The Academy of Arts in Berlin expelled Kirchner as a member.
Kirchner continued to work and organised a major exhibit in Basle, which received mixed reviews. After Austria was annexed by Germany in the Anschluss, Kirchner became disturbed by the idea that Germany might invade Switzerland. On 15 June 1938, Kirchner took his own life by gunshot in front of his home in Frauenkirch. Three days later, Kirchner was laid to rest in the Waldfriedhof cemetery. Erna continued to live in the house until her death in 1945.