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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is one of the most famous German artists of the 20th century and his paintings combined a variety of influences which together formed an unforgettable and truly unique artistic style.

African art was a major influence on Kirchner and we see this in many of his figurative artworks, perhaps in a similar way to some of the work of Pablo Picasso. The primitive forms were perfectly in line with the expressive and abstract nature of many of the new art movements which appeared in the 20th century. Whilst Japanese art had inspired the likes of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, African art took 20th century artists into it's grasp. Gauguin had himself found a new lease of life, artistically at least, during his extended time in Tahiti.

That said, whilst that influence on Kirchner's paintings can explain his figurative style, from where did his bright colour schemes and El Greco-esque use of perspective come from? Elongated canvases, often with figures stretched beyond all reality was perfectly in keeping with this expressive approach which was becoming ever more common in Germany. This region of Northern Europe was becoming a true artistic melting point during this time, with the likes of Klee, Macke, Kandinsky and Kirchner providing some of the better contributions that we can all appreciate today. For many, though, his style is most closely related to the work of Edvard Munch, a highly significant Norwegian painter.

Kirchner's modern direction would ultimately cost him everything - as the German Third Reich moved in to destroy his reputation and career. We are fortunate that so much of his work has survived to the present day after that regime's attempts to undermine and remove much of his work, along with many other artists whose styles were equally non-traditional. Those very same artists described as degenerates at that time are now considered some of the finest European artists in history. Kirchner ranks in that group alongside other unwilling contributors to the degenerate exhibition, including Franz Marc and August Macke.

Kirchner exhibited successfully in Switzerland and Germany before becoming part of the USA's very first display of Modern Art, at the Armory Show in 1913. The US would, of course, later lead these new art movements and push artistic developments ever onwards. Their own unofficial headquarters would be New York City, where many new art movements would first appear. Kirchner himself felt most at home in Switzerland, appreciating the way of life there and the rolling hills which would inspire some of his work at around this time. You will find a plethora of landscape paintings featuring small Swiss villages superimposed on breathtaking backdrops throughout this section of the website. The other notable theme would have to be his German-based city scenes which captured middle-class lifestyles during that period.

The German Third-Reich led a much publicised assault on modern art over a sustained period and this not only led to the destruction of many of Kirchner's paintings but also forced him to remain essentially exiled in Switzerland. His fear of their imminent arrival and invasion of Switzerland left him so unhappy that he chose to take his own life to avoid seeing what would eventually become reality across his new country. Despite the attempts to ruin, even remove, his reputation from art history, Kirchner's paintings can now be found right across the world and reproductions of his Expressionist art continue to be particularly popular. We include the highlights of his work in painting below.

Dodo and her Brother Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Dodo and her Brother
The Red Tower in Halle Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The Red Tower in Halle
Japanese Theatre Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Japanese Theatre
Reclining Nude Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Reclining Nude
Konigstein with Red Church Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Konigstein with Red Church
Alpine Kitchen Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Alpine Kitchen
Gerda, Half-Length Portrait Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Gerda, Half-Length Portrait
The Junkerboden under Snow Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The Junkerboden under Snow
The Dance between the Women Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The Dance between the Women
Curving Bay Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Curving Bay
Street With Red Streetwalker Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Street With Red Streetwalker
The Loam Pit Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The Loam Pit
Landscape with Chestnut Tree Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Landscape with Chestnut Tree
Circus Rider Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Circus Rider
Erna with Cigarette Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Erna with Cigarette
Female Nude with Hat Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Female Nude with Hat
Elisabethufer Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Crouching Girl Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Crouching Girl
Artillerymen in the Shower Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Artillerymen in the Shower
Recumbent Nude Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Recumbent Nude
Davos in Summer Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Davos in Summer
Two Acrobats Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Two Acrobats
Dodo Head on Pillow Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Dodo Head on Pillow
Woman in a Green Blouse Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Woman in a Green Blouse
Six Dancers Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Six Dancers
Interieur Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Frankfurter Westhafen Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Frankfurter Westhafen
Store in the Rain Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Store in the Rain