Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 - 1938)

Lot 213: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Häuser im Schnee, 1917


December 2, 2016
Cologne, Germany

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Description: Unsigned.“This painter looks out into the world with eyes that understand its hidden inner life, and it is only what he sees there that he wants to capture in the painting. It never deals with the purely objective; it always deals with something spiritual. […] Because it deals exclusively with the depiction of this spiritual relationship to things, it is entirely self-evident that every object has a right to exist within the painting only to the extent that it is a vehicle of this relationship. Kirchner's art seeks the symbols that express the artist's spiritual relationships to the essence of things. Perceiving this spiritual relationship is to understand his paintings.”Botho Graef (cited in: Ausstellung von Gemälden von E.L. Kirchner, Galerie Ludwig Schames, Frankfurt am Main (1919))In the winter of 1917, with his composition “Häuser im Schnee”, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner created what is surely one of his first paintings from Switzerland, which would become a second home to him. He provides a detail from a steep landscape with two bulky gabled buildings in the midst of very nearby mountains. Whether wood or stone, the houses typical of the canton of Grisons have to defy the entire burden of snow and the frost with their projecting roofs and heavy chimneys, in order to guarantee the human existential needs of warmth and security all the more dependably within their interiors. The architectonic structures are piled against one another; with their solid and straight forms they develop a clear contrast to the softness and painterly indeterminacy characterising their surroundings, which are covered in deep snow. The community's position is not without danger - indeed, the ridges and faces of the mountains barely seem to keep hold of the masses of snow. No pathway, no trail is visible in this snowed-in alpine world. A deep, triangular section of sky corresponds to the pointed gables of the houses and is formally of equal weight. An elongated, semi-abstract female figure appears at the lower edge of the painting; cut off and turned to the left, she also balances out the composition in an important way. She is small compared to the scale of the overwhelming natural setting and seems as though she is lost. With features reminiscent of Erna Schilling, she sets a striking accent on the surface of a painting that cannot be imagined without her.Using thin but heavily saturated washes, Kirchner has apparently very rapidly painted over the canvas ground, which retains a voice in the composition. Typically for his work, he has incorporated almost graphic elements in dashed and zigzag patterns. In addition, dense and broader brushwork stands in contrast to highly fluid, translucent movements of the brush, which flow out in linear or indeterminate wave-like marks, as though lying behind the veil of an atmospheric haze from the snow and cold. The painting's chromatic effect is impressively successful and causes the wintry landscape motif to glow in an unreal manner. Kirchner's colours are to be understood in terms of expressive complementarity as well as symbolically. A transcendental white and the deep blue are joined by saturated shades of orange and green as well as a flickering and invigorating red light that provides an affective accent: “orange/pink, the colour of life” is what Kirchner later wrote while discussing a different painting in a letter from Frauenkirch to Nele van de Velde, the daughter of Henry van de Velde (letter of 21 May 1920, cited in E.L. Kirchner, Briefe an Nele und Henry van de Velde, Munich 1961, p. 27).E.L. Kirchner and Henry van de Velde were both initially exiled from Germany through the events of World War I; they would meet in person for the first time in Davos in June of 1917. Trust and a deeply felt friendship immediately developed. In this context an artistic circle formed which was of momentous significance for the present painting - and certainly not in an entirely coincidental manner.Karl Ernst Osthaus was dee
Dimensions: 70.5 x 60.3 cm
Artist or Maker: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Medium: Oil on canvas Framed
Date: 1917
Condition Report: Verso backed with a loose canvas (old), held together by joint nailing. This one browned overall and with slight foxing. With fine craqueleur; the thinly painted, porous structure of pigments over visible ground with age-related rubbing in places. The lower stretcher bar showing through to the front. Two minor, rather inconspicuous dents and minimal losses of colour along the margins.
Exhibited: Bielefeld 1969 (Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Richard Kaselowsky-Haus), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner aus Privatbesitz, Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Grafik, cat. no. 197 (addendum)
Literature: Karl Ernst Osthaus, Van de Velde, Leben und Schaffen des Künstlers (Die Neue Baukunst, Monographienreihe Band I), Folkwang-Verlag Hagen 1920, p. 52, illus. p. 28; Lucius Grisebach, Von Davos nach Davos. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner und die Familien Grisebach und Spengler in Jena und Davos, in: Davoser Revue 67, 1992, pp. 30-47; Donald E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Mit einem kritischen Katalog sämtlicher Gemälde, Munich 1968, pp. 107 ff., no. 474, illus. p. 343; Herta Hesse-Frielinghaus (ed.), Kirchner und das Folkwang-Museum Hagen, Briefe von, an und über Kirchner zusammengestellt aus den Beständen des Osthaus-Archivs Hagen, Sonderdruck aus der Zeitschrift Westfalen, vol. 52, issue 1-2, Münster 1974, pp. 60 f. illus. 10, p. 61Cf. also in general: Nele van de Velde (ed.), E.L. Kirchner, Briefe an Nele und Henry van de Velde, Munich 1961; Herta Hesse-Frielinghaus, August Hoff et. al., Karl Ernst Osthaus, Leben und Werk, Recklinghausen 1971, pp. 195/196, 211; Ulrike Ittershagen, Gut Schede und das Privatkontor Harkort in Wetter (1904), in: Birgit Schulte (ed.), Henry van de Velde in Hagen, Hagen undated (1992), pp. 227-239; Freimut Richter-Hansen, Kirchner in Königstein, in: Exhib. cat.: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Kirchner in Königstein, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Druckgrafik, Fotografien, Galerie Jahrhunderthalle Hoechst 1999/2000, pp. 7 ff.
Provenance: Purchased from the artist through intervention by Karl Ernst Osthaus in 1918; formerly Gut Schede, Herdecke, in family possession for three generations since, at last in private possession, Westphalia; on permanent loan and deposit at the Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal-Elberfeld from 2011-2016
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Modern Art

December 2, 2016, 6:00 PM CET

Cologne, Germany

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