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German Expressionism

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Georg Kolbe

German, 1887–1947

Starr Figura, German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 2011

Sculptor, printmaker, draftsman. Known for idealized nudes, whose poses and gestures often suggest modern dance. Heavily influenced by Aristide Maillol and Auguste Rodin, whose studio he visited in 1909. Achieved first major success in 1911–12; joined board of Berlin Secession. Volunteered and sent to Eastern front in 1914, later stationed in Turkey, away from active service. In 1916 was commissioned to make two memorials in Turkey and Belgium. After war became close friends with Karl Schmidt-Rottluff; had a brief Expressionist period, from about 1919–23, when he created elongated, stylized figures, which he exhibited at the Cassirer Gallery in Berlin. In mid-1920s returned to a more naturalistic approach to the human figure, which became quietly introspective after wife's death in 1927.

Made ninety-nine prints, beginning with lithographs around 1900, primarily literary illustrations. In the 1920s, encouraged by Cassirer, made drypoints of dancers and nudes in motion, subjects he favored in his sculpture.

Under the Third Reich continued to participate in official exhibitions and took major state commissions, although he refused invitation to sculpt portrait of Hitler. Nazis appropriated his late style of monumental, idealized athletic nudes. His earlier, Expressionist works were removed from public view, some destroyed. Lost many works during bombing of Berlin in 1944.

Selected Bibliography

Berger, Ursel. Georg Kolbe: Leben und Werk. Berlin: Mann-Verlag, 1990.

Rosenbach, Detlev. Georg Kolbe: Das druckgraphische Werk. Berlin: Mann-Verlag, 1997.

Heather Hess

Works by Georg Kolbe

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