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Das Soldatenbad (Artillerymen)
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About the item

Painted in 1915, immediately following Kirchners release from military service, Das Soldatenbad is one of the greatest painted representations of the psychological realities of war. Executed in his fully developed Expressionist pictorial style, Das Soldatenbad daringly explores the anxieties occasioned by modernization in the early twentieth century, while continuing to develop his preoccupation with the human body held since his earliest days as a member of Die Brücke.\n\nIn 1911 Kirchner moved from Dresden to Berlin, drawn to the dynamism of city life in the vibrant metropolis. He joined in the avant-garde pictorial experimentation of the moment, exploring the social and psychological fragmentation inherent in industrial modernity, as well as the eras whirlwind energy. With the outbreak of the World War I in the summer of 1914, his artistic explorations assumed greater personal urgency. From the outset Kirchner viewed the war with a tragic sense of foreboding. The immense upheaval ushered in by the First World War was marked by the brutal dislocation of everyday life in Germany. For Kirchner, the prospect of forced induction into the army and the impossibility of avoiding military service left him in a state of nervous anxiety. To avoid conscription into the infantry Kirchner enlisted, in the spring of 1915, in the Germany army as an artillery driver. After his billeting at Halle and throughout his basic training, it became apparent that Kirchner lacked the mental and physical fortitude necessary to continue and serve at the front. By September Kirchner suffered a nervous breakdown and was temporarily exempted from military service and permitted to return to Berlin on medical leave.\n\nWhile Kirchner was spared an assignment at the front and a first-hand engagement with the horrors and atrocities that accompanied war, what had seriously affected his constitutionnever particularly strong to begin withwas his experience of the hardship and coercion of military life. Following his discharge from service in November 1915, he was filled with an overwhelming sense of loss of identity. It is in this state of anguish that Kirchner paints his military experience in a series of two canvases: Self-Portrait as a Soldier and Das Soldatenbad. While Self-Portrait as a Soldier is a more symbolic and explicitly autobiographical portrait that depicts the artist in uniform, Das Soldatenbad provides a rare glimpse into the experienced trauma that would shape Kirchners remaining work and life. This monumental painting depicts a group of young military recruits herded together and confined within a low-ceilinged chamber under the oppressive gaze of a uniformed superior.  Literally and figuratively exposed, the attenuated men have been stripped of an individualistic quality: the identical yellow pallor of their skin, short cropped hair and dark eyes are all executed in a highly stylized manner that removes any distinctive characteristics. Within the collective corporeality of the group the erratic and angular gestures of the individual figures provide contrast to the homogeneity of their physical appearance, generating a feeling of nervousness that is no doubt in response to the powerlessness of their mobilization and constant-supervision at the hands of their superiors. So powerful was the imposing figure of his commanding officers, recorded within Das Soldatenbad, that in a letter written not long after he was discharged from the service Kirchner confessed: I am still haunted by the fear of uniforms to this day (quoted in Vibrant Metropolois, Idyllic Nature: KircherThe Berlin Years (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus, Zurich, 2017, p. 69). A photographic self-portrait of the artist in his studio, donning his military uniform, shows Kirchner with a rigid posture that echoes that of the uniformed officer in Das Soldatenbad.  It has been suggested that the drawing that appears behind Kirchner in the photograph is possibly an earlier version of Das Soldatenbad, which was later re-worked into the canvas as we see it today.\nHaving himself been subjected to the de-humanizing discipline imparted by his superiors, in painting Das Soldatenbad Kirchner reflects on the anguish he felt during his enlistment and the frightening anonymity of life as a solider. In the thin, emaciated bodiessome accented with boldly hatched ribscrushed together in the limited space, the assembly of soldiers behaves as if entirely alone in spite of their close physical proximity. No gesture or eye contact is exchanged between them, further isolating them from one another. By distorting the perspectival lines of the composition, particularly in the upper register, Kirchner successful communicates the cramped physical space of the composition, providing an impression of the claustrophobic environment of the shower hall as he experienced it.\n\nIn a letter to Gustave Schiefler from December 9, 1915 Kirchner describes his emotional state shortly after returning to Berlin: Im no longer fit for heavy military work and plan to enter a sanatorium in a few days to heal my nerves and my lungs. I have become half mad, and physical human feelings are still foreign to me even today war takes hold of me more and more. You now see almost nothing but masks, no faces any longer, it would be a good thing and necessary if an end were to come soon (quoted in ibid., p. 64). The alienation, despair and loss of identity which consumed Kirchner during his time in the military was exacerbated by the uncertainty and overwhelming vulnerability of the possibility of being re-conscripted which continued to weigh heavily upon him.\n\nSince his early Die Brücke years, the human body fascinated Kirchner. Like Max Pechstein, Erich Heckel and other group members, the simple, expressive rendering of shapes and forms of African and other indigenous sculptures drew his attention. The aesthetic of the geometric modeling of tribal masks was adopted by artists in Paris at the turn of the century, most notably Picasso in his ground-breaking 1907 masterpiece Les Demoiselles dAvignon, and incorporated into their own aesthetics. In the foreground of\nDas Soldatenbad one of the soldiers appears, crouched down, to be stoking the fire that heats the shower water. He, as well as the left most standing figure in the composition both appear to have been directly influenced by the poses in Les Demoiselles dAvignon. By the time he was painting Das Soldatenbad in 1915, Kirchners primary concern was the representation of the human form in its most nascent, uninhibited state. The mask-like faces of the soldiers, nudity, and angular gestures in Das Soldatenbad reveal the artists preference for spontaneous, unmediated depictions of the body, divorced from the rigorous constraints of academic painting.\nDespite his commitment to the avant-garde however, Kirchner did not abandon the Western canon, instead deploying references to canonical artworks with rhetorical, almost ironic, intent. In Das Soldatenbad the compressed spatial arrangement of the figures evokes that used in Roman frieze reliefs, thereby linking his painting to an age-old meditation on the tribulations of war. By selecting the setting of Das Soldatenbad within the context of bathing, Kirchner has also tied the work to the grand series of bathers so crucial to the development of twentieth-century art. The ground-breaking works of Cézanne addressing bathers would have lasting effects within the pantheon of representation through the solidity of his figures and the distortion of perspective. Expanded further in the bold palette and innovative compositions of the bathers of Edgar Degas, so admired by post-Impressionists van Gogh and Gaugin, Kirchner takes up the subject with his characteristic affecting realism. Later German artists, particularly Georg Baselitz, absorbed the expressive painterly realism which was so fundamental to the strength of Kirchners art in a revitalized movement in the 1970s referred to as Neo-Expressionism. Baselitz overtly referenced Kirchner and his Die Brücke colleagues in his seminal composition Der Brückechor through the emphasis of both color and gesture, executed with characteristically dramatic brushwork.\nAs one of the few depictions Kirchner made to document his experience during his brief time as an artilleryman Das Soldatenbad has been widely exhibited and included in numerous publications to discuss this crucial episode. Following his breakdown which directly resulted from this experience, Kirchner never fully recovered. His life was overshadowed by mental crisis, feelings of isolation, despair and poor health. Retreating to the mountains of Switzerland, Kirchner would eventually commit suicide in 1938, as the specter of yet another world war loomed over Europe.\nKirchner's Das Soldatenbad came to be owned by Jewish dealer and collector Alfred Flectheim shortly after it was completed. As the Nazi party rose to power in Germany, Flectheim, who acquired the Das Soldatenbad for a second time in 1930, fled to London, where he would die in 1937. Most of his collection, including the present work, remained in the custody of his niece Rosi Hulisch in Berlin. Das Soldatenbad was acquired in 1938 by Kurt Feldhäusser, a member of the Nazi party. Upon Feldhäusser's death in 1945, the ownership of his collection passed to his mother, who brought the work to the United States and consigned it to the Weyhe Gallery in New York in 1949.\nDas Soldatenbad was then purchased by American philanthropist and collector Morton D. May of Saint Louis in 1952. May amassed one of the largest collections of German Expressionist art in America and donated over one thousand works from his collection to various institutions; Das Soldatenbad was donated to The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1956. In an exchange in 1988, the work became part of the collection of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. In 2018 Das Soldatenbad was restituted to the heirs of Alfred Flechtheim by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation after an extensive examination of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the painting's history.\n\nThis work is listed in the Ernst Ludwig Kirchner archives, Wichtrach/Bern.\nSigned E. L. Kirchner (lower right)
US
NY, US
US

notes

Please note there is an Irrevocable Bid on this lot.

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig

dimensions

55 1/8 by 59 1/8 in.

exhibition

Frankfurt, Galerie Ludwig Schames, E. L. Kirchner, 1919, no. 12 (probably) Berlin, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Eröffnungsausstellung: Deutsche und französische Kunst aus des XX. Jahrhunderts Beginn, 1921, n.n. Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Ausstellung von Gemälden juengerer Künstler aus Deutschland, England, Frankreich und den Vereingten Staaten (Vier-Nationen-Ausstellung), 1926, no. 27 Berlin, Galerie Alfred Flechtheim, Das Problem der Generationen, 1927, no. 66 Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, L’Art vivant en Europe, 1931, no. 45 (titled Le Bains des Soldats Russes) New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Recent European Acquisitions, 1956-57, n.n. New York, The Museum of Modern Art & St. Louis, Missouri, The City Art Museum, German Art of the Twentieth Century, 1957-58, no. 73, illustrated in the catalogue New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art, German and Austrian Expressionism, 1976, no. 32, illustrated in the catalogue Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art, German and Austrian Expressionism: Art in a Turbulent Era, 1978, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue Berlin, Staatliche Museen; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Museum Ludwig & Zurich, Kunsthaus, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880-1938, 1979-80, no. 235, illustrated in color in the catalogue New York, Grace Borgenicht Gallery, E. L. Kirchner: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1983, no. 4, illustrated in the catalogue London, Royal Academy of Arts & Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, German Art in the 20th Century, Paintings and Sculpture 1905-1985, 1985-86, no. 11, illustrated in color in the catalogue Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Museum der Gegenwart – Kunst in öffentlichen Sammlungen bis 1937, 1987, no. 27, illustrated in color in the catalogue New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Masterpieces from the Collection, 1990, n.n. Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Masterpieces from the Guggenheim, 1992, no. 52, illustrated in color in the catalogue (titled Le Bain des soldats) New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection, 1992-93, n.n. Bilbao, Sala Rekalde; Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum; Hamburg, Kunsthalle & Helsinki, Ateneum, Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1993-95, no. 22, illustrated in color in the catalogueLondon, Barbicon Art Gallery, A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde Art and the Great War, 1994, no. 135, illustrated in color in the catalogue Berlin, Berlinische Galerie & Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Berlin Moskau, 1900-1950, 1995-96, no. II/9 Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Die Epoche der Moderne - Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, 1997, no. 25, illustrated in color in the catalogue Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Inaugural Exhibition, 1997-98, n.n. Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 2000, n.n. Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Der Postdamer Platz. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner und der Untergang Preussens, 2001, no. 89, illustrated in color in the catalogue Las Vegas, Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, Art Through the Ages: Masterpieces of Painting from Titian to Picasso, 2003, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art & London, Royal Academy of Arts, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: The Dresden and Berlin Years, 2003, no. 157, illustrated in color in the catalogue Bonn, Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, The Guggenheim Collection, 2006-07, no. 45, illustrated in color in the catalogue Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, 1914! The Avant-Garde and the War, 2009, no. 120, illustrated in color in the catalogue New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Kandinsky and Expressionist Painting Before World War I, 2009-10, n.n. Frankfurt, Städel Museum, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Retrospective, 2010, no. 75, illustrated in color in the catalogue New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918, 2011, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue Berlin, Brücke-Museum, Weltenbruch: die Künstler der Brücke im Ersten Weltkrieg, 1914-1918, 2014, no. 72, illustrated in color in the catalogue Davos, Kirchner Museum, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: der Künstler als Fotograf, 2015-16, no. 105, illustrated in the catalogue

literature

Kirchner Archives, vol. II, no. 139 Alfred Flechtheim, Der Querschnitt, 1922, illustrated p. 199 Cahiers de Belgique, Brussels, May 1, 1931, illustrated p. 157 Peter Selz, German Expressionist Painting, Berkeley, 1957, illustrated pl. 138 Charles R. McCurdy, ed., Modern Art: A Pictorial Anthology, New York, 1958, no. A97, illustrated p. 73Franz Roh, "Entartete" Kunst. Kunstbarbarei im Dritten Reich, Hannover, 1962, p. 438 Donald E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968, no. 434, illustrated p. 329 Herte Hesse-Frielinghaus, “Ernst Ludwig Kirchner und das Museum Folkwang Hagen: Briefe von ihm, an und über ihn” in Westfalen, Munster, 1974, no. I-80 Richard Hamann & Jost Hermand, Expressionismus, Berlin, 1975, illustrated p. 37 Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Painting and Sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art, 1929-1967, New York, 1977, illustrated p. 69 (titled Artillerymen) Johannes von Geymüller, Die Gemälde des 20. Jahrhunderts Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf Malerei, vol. III, p. 371 Expressionisten, Die Avantgarde in Deutschland 1905-1920 (exhibition catalogue), Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie und Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, 1986, illustrated p. 136 Donald E. Gordon, Expressionism - Art and Idea, New Haven & London, 1987, illustrated p. 155 Walter Lepori, Zauberberge: zu Ernst Ludwig Kirchners Davoser Bergbildern, Zurich, 1988, illustrated p. 14 Carla Schulz-Hoffmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Gemälde 1908-1920, Munich, 1991, illustrated in color p. 34 Thomas Röske, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Tanz zwischen den Frauen: eine Kunst-Monographie, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1993, illustrated p. 18 Annegret Jürgens-Kirchhoff, Schreckensbilder Krieg und Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1993, illustrated p. 75 Lucius Grisebach, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: 1880-1938, Cologne, 1995, illustrated in color p. 129 Hyang-Sook Kim, Die Frauendarstellungen im Werk von Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: verborgene Selbstbekenntnisse des Malers, Marburg, 2002, illustrated p. 90 Peter Springer, Hand and Head: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Self-portrait as Soldier, Berkeley, 2002, illustrated in color p. 172 Christine E. Stauffer, ed., Festschrift für Eberhard W. Kornfeld zum 80. Geburtstag, Bern, 2003, illustrated in color p. 255 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Mountain Life, The Early Years in Davos 1917-1926 (exhibition catalogue), Kunstmuseum, Basel, 2003, illustrated p. 64 Ashley Bassie, Expressionism, London, 2005, illustrated in color p. 153 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner in Berlin (exhibition catalogue), Brücke Museum, Berlin, 2008, no. 241, illustrated in color n.p. Hans Delfs, Der gesamte Briefwechsel: "die absolute Wahrheit, so wie ich sie fühle". 4, Briefe von 1901 bis 1923: Nachträge und Register, Zurich, 2010, no. 264, 275 & 3300 Gregor Langfeld, Deutsche Kunst in New York: Vermittler, Kunstsammler, Ausstellungsmacher, 1904-1957, Berlin, 2011, illustrated in color p. 154 Vibrant Metropolis, Idyllic Nature: Kirchner—The Berlin Years (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus, Zurich, 2017, illustrated in color p. 67

provenance

Galerie Ludwig Schames, Frankfurt Alfred Flechtheim, Dusseldorf (acquired from the above in 1919) Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf (acquired by donation in 1928-29) Alfred Flechtheim, Dusseldorf (acquired from the above by exchange in 1930 and left in the custody of his niece, Rosi Hulisch, on his departure from Germany in 1933) Kurt Feldhäusser, Berlin (acquired in 1938) Marie Luise Feldhäusser, Berlin (by inheritance from her son, above, in 1945) Erhard Weyhe Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1949) Mr. & Mrs. Morton D. May, St. Louis (acquired by 1952) The Museum of Modern Art, New York (a gift from the above in 1956) The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (by exchange from the above in 1988) Acquired by restitution from the above in 2018

signedDate

Signed E. L. Kirchner (lower right)

time_period

Painted in 1915.

time_range_end

1915

artist_range_end

1938

time_range_start

1915

artist_range_start

1880

consignmentDesignation

Masterpieces from the Alfred Flechtheim Collection

creator_nationality_dates

1880 - 1938


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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