AMAM Masterpiece Spotlight: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Self-Portrait as a Solider.
”In this haunting self-portrait, the horror and mental anguish of the First World War is made vividly evident. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of the founders of the Die Brücke movement, a group that was the first to bring forth the style of art that would become known as German Expressionism, depicts himself in his studio, where canvases lean against the walls behind him, wearing the uniform of the 75th Artillery Regiment. His right-painting -arm is a bloody stump, his cheeks are sunken, his dark-circled eyes are empty and hollow, and a cigarette dangles listlessly from his lips. Although Kirchner did not suffer the loss of his hand during the war, it broke him emotionally. He had been inducted into the army in early 1915 and assigned to the field artillery, but due to a lung infection and depression was sent away from the front lines and released in the autumn of that year. He subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time in clinics and sanatoriums.
The figure behind the artist is ambiguous -likely female, it has masculine overtones- and it is unclear whether it is meant to suggest a live model, or a figure painted on canvas. There is a suggestion of a bent limb-elbow or knee-over Kirchner’s shoulder and under the figure’s right arm, and the way the figure is inscribed within the dark background-which may continue behind Kirchner-would seem to suggest it is part of a painting. It bears some resemblance to the AMAM’s 1919 sculpture by Kirchner, Standing Female Nude.
This work, with its raw and garish colors, was included in the 1937 Entartete Kunst - Degenerate Art - exhibition put on by the Nazi authorities in Munich, after which it traveled to other cities in Germany in 1937-38. In Munich, the painting was exhibited in room 3, with other Kirchners, as “Soldier with Whore,” under the texts “Deliberate sabotage of national defense” and “An insult to the German heroes of the Great War,” while next to the painting were the (sincere) words of a German curator likening Kirchner’s art to that of Dürer: “We are in the presence of the first German artist to achieve a penetrating quality that can be likened to that of Dürer, E. L. Kirchner.” The use of the quote in this context was meant to mock both the curator, and the artist. Kirchner, like Dürer, was known for the power of his woodcuts, and the short strokes and angular forms in this work make reference to that medium.”
- from the AMAM Collection Catalog.