Ernst Ludwig Kirchner exhibition at Kunsthaus Zürich
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Kirchner's Retrospective at Kunsthaus Zürich

Kunsthaus Zurich, gallery, Switzerland

Now in its 230th year, foremost art institution the Kunsthaus is celebrating the work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, an artist whose contribution to painting was initially labeled as ‘degenerate’ – surely a badge of honour in hindsight.

Kirchner Museum Davos, Switzerland

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is considered one of the pioneers of Expressionism, but at several points in his career, mental imbalances threatened to curtail his output.

His vision, in the early 20th century, was to create a new method of artistic expression, one that would connect past and presents art movements.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner The Lighthouse of Fehmarn, 1912 Oil on canvas, 119.5 x 91 cm Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh: Patrons Art Fund  Photo © 2017 Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Street, Berlin, 1913 Oil on canvas, 120.5 x 91 cm The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase, 1939 © 2017. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

Kirchner and his friends named their movement “Die Brücke" (The Bridge) in 1905. They had a bohemian, romantic lifestyle that favoured a blurring of social norms and spontaneity. 

Kirchner, for example, took to painting Berlin’s streetwalkers.

After an ongoing physical and psychological crisis in 1915 – after the onset of World War I - he moved to Davos, Switzerland, in 1917, searching for psychological understanding of his figures and searching for a style, which was often colourful and expressive in its piercing effect.

But his mental health was deteriorating – a friend even feared he’d undergo the same fate as Van Gogh – and he stayed in Davos primarily for treatment. 
Moonrise on the Stafelalp, 1917  Oil on canvas, 80 x 90 cm, Kirchner Museum Davos, on loan from the Rosmarie Ketterer Foundation
He continued to work, however, and his health improved, signaling the start of his Alpine life, his search for remoteness.
Kirchner Museum, Davos, Switzerland

From 1920, his reputation as an artist of stature grew, and he exhibited widely in exhibitions throughout Germany and Switzerland. But his mountainous environment left a mark. He turned to landscape, and even began to create designs for carpets.

Sitting quietly at home, in his little Wildboden house, he reminisced on his urbane German life, which felt intriguing even to himself.

The exhibition Vibrant Metropolis / Idyllic Nature. Kirchner – The Berlin Yearsat the Zürich Kunsthaus, explores precisely that seminal time in the career of a young Kirchner, through 160 ground-breaking works he produced from 1911 to 1917.

It’s the first exhibition in his adopted homeland Switzerland that takes a close look at this brief but important artistic period, as yet relatively untainted by the swings and arrows of life.

Self-portrait in the live-in studio in Berlin-Friedenau, 1913/1915  Glass negative, 13 x 18 cm, Kirchner Museum Davos, Gift of the Estate of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 2001

Fittingly, the Kunsthaus is only a short, 10 minute walk over the Rathausbrücke from our partner, the Widder Hotel: just like Kirchner’s artistic “The Bridge” approach, this collection of heritage houses cherishes a link between past and present: its 14th century history is infused with modernist elements by architect and interior designer Tilla Theus.

Images © Kunsthaus Zürich & Kirchner Museum, Davos, Switzerland

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