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Wilhelm Lehmbruck (German, 1881–1919)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

German sculptor, painter and printmaker. He studied in Düsseldorf at the Kunstgewerbeschule from 1895 to 1901 and under Karl Janssen at the Kunstakademie from 1901 to 1906. His work was representative of established academic art. As well as making drawings of nudes and anatomical studies, he modelled works of typical contemporary subjects such as Siegfried and Shotputter (both clay, 1902; destr.); Woman Bathing (bronze, 1902; Duisburg, Lehmbruck-Mus.), however, displayed a new freedom and simplicity and one cast of it was bought by the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf in 1904. Lehmbruck was inspired by works that he saw at the Deutsch-nationale Kunstausstellung (1902) and by the Internationale Kunstausstellung (1904), both held in Düsseldorf, particularly those by Jules Dalou, Constantin Meunier and Auguste Rodin. In September 1904 he travelled to the Netherlands and to Bournemouth and the south coast of England. After travelling in Italy (1905) he was heavily influenced by Michelangelo’s work, and in particular the tombs of the Medici chapels in Florence.

On leaving the academy Lehmbruck worked as an independent artist in Düsseldorf. He exhibited for the first time at the Deutsche Kunstausstellung, in Cologne in 1906. During a trip to Paris in 1907 he saw the sculpture of Aristide Maillol. While there he joined the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, and in Germany the Vereinigung Düsseldorfer Künstler. At this time his work was still conventional, for example the plaster model for a Monument to Work (c. 1906; Duisburg, Lehmbruck-Mus.). At the Ausstellung für Christliche Kunst in Düsseldorf (1909) he and Wilhelm Kreis exhibited work as part of a design for a cemetery. In the model for the Heine memorial (c. 1906), the drawings for reliefs of 1908–10 and the small bronze Standing Female Nude (375×95×75 mm, 1908; Duisburg, Lehmbruck-Mus.), however, an individual style of solid plasticity began to emerge, revealing a move away from the influences of Rodin and Meunier, and a new affinity with the sensual, rounded figures of Maillol.

Lehmbruck decided to live in Paris after visiting and exhibiting there, especially because he recognized that he had made great strides in his recent work. In 1910 he moved into the Rue de Vaugirard, Montparnasse, where he met Bernhard Hoetger; he also made contact with André Derain, Constantin Brancusi and Alexander Archipenko. In Standing Female Figure (bronze, 1965×540×400 mm, 1910; artist’s estate, see 1979 exh. cat., no. 5) he combined the statuesque qualities of Hans von Marées’s work and the plasticity of Maillol’s; he also produced his first etchings and oil sketches at this time. Lehmbruck exhibited Standing Female Figure at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1910 with Man (plaster, 1909; Duisburg, Lehmbruck-Mus.), a sculpture in which the influence of Rodin was still marked. A radical change of style took place in 1911, however, embodied in the expressionistic Woman Kneeling (torso, stone cast, 1911; Berlin, Alte N.G.) in which clarity of form was balanced with an expressive, almost Gothic spirit. While the tectonics learnt from Marées and the mythical elements remained, the sensual curves of Maillol began to disappear; Theodor Däubler called the new work ‘the preface to Expressionism in sculpture’ (1916 exh. cat., intro.). Lehmbruck developed this tendency further in Ascending Youth (cast stone, 1913), a figure inspired by Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.

In Paris Lehmbruck also came into contact with the avant-garde sculpture of Matisse, Modigliani, Derain and Archipenko. By this stage his own work was closer to that of Brancusi, although without the latter’s subjective simplication of form and later geometric abstraction. In 1912 he exhibited in the Folkwang-Museum in Hagen, with Egon Schiele; Lehmbruck’s existential figures shared great similarities with those of Schiele, while in their elongation, their tectonization and their clarity of form they were precursors of Max Beckmann’s sculptural style of 1916–18. In contrast to the formal explorations by the avant-garde of Paris, the works of Schiele, Lehmbruck and Beckmann are characterized by their psychological depth and their Expressionism. In 1914 Lehmbruck had his first major one-man exhibition in the Galerie Levesque, Paris. With Ernst Barlach and Beckmann he became a director of the Berlin Free Secession.

Lehmbruck was forced to leave Paris at the outbreak of World War I, moving to Berlin, where he sought to avoid conscription as a soldier, and where he was assigned to the Hospital Corps. During the war years Lehmbruck received financial support from the manufacturer Sally Falk in Mannheim. Lehmbruck’s work was included in the first German Kollektivausstellung, held in the Kunsthalle, Mannheim, in 1916. In the same year he exhibited a major example of Expressionist sculpture at the Berlin Secession, Fallen Man (1916; Berlin, Neue N.G.), portraying in the gesture of the fallen soldier reaching for the hilt of a sword the tragedy of the victims of war.

At the end of 1916 Lehmbruck emigrated to Switzerland. In Zurich he made contact with the Socialist L. Rubiner who collaborated on Franz Pfemfert’s Aktion. He made portraits of friends such as Theodor Däubler (bust; destr.) and Rubiner. His second major work of the war years was Seated Youth (artificial stone cast, 1917; Frankfurt am Main, Städel. Kstinst.), also called The Friend, representing a naked youth mourning the victims of war. He planned further major works, including a Pietà for a war memorial and a kneeling youth, but he made only fragmentary sculptures, torsos such as Daphne (1918) and the metaphorical self-portrait Head of a Thinker (1918; Duisburg, Lehmbruck-Mus.). Lehmbruck met a young actress, Elisabeth Bergner, and made models and drawings of her head. Among Lehmbruck’s etchings (dating from 1910) are the later studies of the Crucifixion and of a kneeling youth (Despair), the prints and sketches for Macbeth and for a planned Pietà. In 1919 he was elected into the Prussian Kunstakademie, but shortly afterwards he committed suicide.

Dietrich Schubert
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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