Coquelicot Art of the First World War
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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Selbstbildnis als Soldat (Self-portrait as a soldier), 1915, oil on canvas, 69.2 x 61 cm, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio.

© Ingeborg Dr.Wolf-Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern.

The fighting men

10 - Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

A key figure in German Expressionism, Kirchner (1880-1938) was not spared by the mobilisation. He was assigned to the field artillery, but in October 1915, his lung disease and depression got so bad that he was sent back behind the lines. Upon his return to his Berlin studio, he painted two self-portraits, one as a downcast alcoholic, the other as a soldier. The paintings placed against the walls and the nude model are a clear indication of the place and its function; it was here, in this studio, that Kirchner did his violently satirical scenes of modern life. But is the person in the foreground still that painter? He is wearing the uniform and cap of the 75th Artillery Regiment - the one in which the artist served. Most of all, instead of a hand holding a paintbrush, he is holding out a bloody stump, cut off at the wrist. A symbolic mutilation this: the man will never paint again and the model undressing before him is wasting her time. Kirchner did not receive such a wound and following a period of physical and mental convalescence, he went back to work. For all that, he still came to a tragic end, driven to suicide by the Nazi persecutions.