German expressionist painter who was the dominant personality in the Brücke group.
A compulsive draughtsman from childhood, Kirchner became a full-time artist in 1905 after studying painting and architecture. In the same year he became a founder member of the first organized group of German expressionists, Die Brücke. In reaction to the academic and pompous nature of official German art, the Brücke artists determined to paint real life and to express real emotions. They rented an empty butcher's shop in a working-class area of Dresden and sought inspiration from Gothic and medieval German art, primitive art, and Van Gogh and Gauguin. The revolutionary style that resulted is exemplified in Kirchner's nudes and portraits with their bright and boldly contrasting colours and simple forms and in his graphic works, which utilize the crudest methods of woodblock and linocut with powerful effect.
In 1911 Kirchner settled in Berlin, where he established an international reputation. During his Berlin period he produced psychological portraits and claustrophobic street scenes of dandies and prostitutes. His increasingly frenzied style reflected both his vision of modern life and his impending mental crisis. This materialized in the form of a serious nervous and physical breakdown soon after his mobilization at the beginning of World War I. After a period in a sanatorium Kirchner spent the rest of his life in the quiet and solitude of the Swiss mountains near Davos, where his paintings of mountain landscapes and peasants expressed a new serenity. In 1928 his style turned towards the abstract as he experimented with his ‘hieroglyphic’ forms. In 1938 the condemnation of his work by the Nazis worsened his depression and he took his own life.