Ernst Ludwig Kirchner “Featuring Watercolors and Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection”

Galerie St. Etienne

poster for Ernst Ludwig Kirchner “Featuring Watercolors and Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection”
[Image: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner "Two Dancers" (1927) Pen and ink, watercolor and graphite, 8 5/8 x 6 1/2 in.]

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Galerie St. Etienne presents Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Featuring Watercolors and Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection, an exhibition including 30 never-before-seen sketches by the great German Expressionist. Until recently, Lehman’s Kirchner drawings had been on extended loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The late collector purchased the works in 1959 as a group from a German dealer who obtained them from the artist’s estate.

The exhibition explores the relationship between Kirchner’s sketches and his other work, presenting more than 50 pieces that span nearly his entire career, from 1906 through his Swiss exile in the 1930s. Also on view will be a selection of larger Kirchner drawings and a number of rare woodcuts, lithographs and etchings. Because Kirchner insisted on doing his own printing, most of his editions are extremely small, and some of the exhibited prints are unique or virtually unique.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Featuring Watercolors and Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection represents a rare opportunity to trace the development of Kirchner’s oeuvre. Sketching was central to the artist’s creative process. Rejecting academic life drawing practices, Kirchner sketched in quick 15-minute intervals. His goal was to capture what he called the “ecstasy of first sight,” the immediate emotions evoked by the experience. These unmediated sketches revealed what he was observing as well as the artist’s temperament. He thought of his sketches as a visual language more evocative than words, referring to them as “hieroglyphs.” The sketches were never studies per se, but rather initial steps toward perfecting expressive form. Emotional emphasis frequently overrode realistic proportions.

The works on view reveal Kirchner’s range, influences, interests, and the progression of his draughtsmanship. The earliest work in the exhibition is a rare colored pencil sketch dating to 1906, done shortly after the founding of the Die Brücke (The Bridge) group in Dresden. The latest was done in Davos, Switzerland, during the artist’s exile from Nazi Germany, approximately two years before his suicide in 1938.

Man and Woman at Café Table (1906; from the Lehman collection), the earliest work in the exhibition, reveals the influence of Vincent van Gogh on the Brücke artists during their formative years. The entire surface of the drawing is covered with brilliant fields of graded color. The van Gogh influence continued through 1908, after which Kirchner began to forge a more personal style.

Dodo with Japanese Umbrella (1909; private collection) depicts Kirchner’s Dresden girlfriend, Doris (“Dodo”) Grosse. Kirchner’s search for “definitive forms” led him into printmaking. He believed that the process allowed a consolidation of “individual stages into a single result, achieving the ultimate in expression.” Unique in its color combination, this lithograph is one of six known impressions.

Gentleman with Lap-Dog in Café (1911; private collection). Woodcut was Kirchner’s favorite printmaking medium because of its simultaneous kinship to non-Western tribal carving and to the German tradition of Dürer. The artist was intimately involved with each of his prints. “Only an artist who brings love and skill to the craft should make graphics,” he opined. “Only if the artist pulls the prints personally does the work deserve to be called original.” This is the only known impression of this woodcut.

Bust of a Nude Girl with Arms Outstretched (1910; from the Lehman collection) represents Kirchner’s Brücke-period style at its peak and is an excellent example of Kirchner’s drawing technique. The forms are rendered with bold, unbroken lines and strong contours, all the while showing his model at ease. “Sometimes,” Kirchner explained, “the great secret that lies beneath all the happenings and things in our environment becomes fleetingly perceptible…. We can never express it concretely, but only give it symbolic form.”

Two Dancers (1927; from the Lehman collection) exemplifies Kirchner’s fascination with dancers. He frequented cabarets, vaudeville acts and dance halls with his sketchbook to explore form and movement. In this study, the dancers’ limbs twist in frenzy as motion is rendered with a series of swift strokes.

In a recent interview, Andrew Robison, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., noted, “Kirchner’s reputation should be like Picasso’s, because Kirchner, in many ways, in the first part of the 20th century parallels Picasso in being the dominant artist for his country.”

Acquired over the course of 60 years, the Robert Lehman Collection is one of the most distinguished privately assembled art collections in the United States, numbering nearly 3,000 works of extraordinary quality and breadth. Spanning 700 years of Western European art, from the 14th to the 20th centuries, it contains paintings, drawings, sculpture, glass, textiles, antique frames, and precious jeweled objects. Robert Lehman’s parents, Philip and Carrie Lehman, laid the foundation for the collection around 1905, when they began acquiring works of art for their townhouse on West 54th Street in New York City. Robert Lehman expanded their collection through scholarly knowledge and connoisseurship. Upon his death in 1969, Lehman bequeathed 2,600 of the works to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 – 1938), a draftsman, printmaker, painter, and sculptor, was one of the most influential German modernists. As a founder and leader of the artists’ group Die Brücke (The Bridge), Kirchner and his fellow members sought to bridge the past and the present and to create a new mode of expression that would rejuvenate German art, freeing it from the academic style of its time. The group pioneered what became known as “Expressionism.” In 1913, Kirchner’s work was exhibited in the Armory Show in New York. After enlisting in the German army in World War I, he suffered a nervous breakdown, was discharged, and later settled in Switzerland. His first solo museum show in the United States was at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1937. That same year, his work was included in the Nazis’ exhibition of “degenerate art.” With his reputation diminished by the Nazis, who confiscated more than 600 works, Kirchner died by his own hand in 1938. His work has since been the subject of major exhibitions around the world, most recently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 2003, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2008, and at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt in 2010.



from March 29, 2016 to July 01, 2016

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