German Expressionism

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Christian Rohlfs

German, 1849–1938

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

Painter, printmaker. Took up painting as a teenager while convalescing from an infection that ultimately cost him a leg. Began formal studies in Weimar in 1870. Initially painted large-scale landscapes, working successively through academic, naturalist, Impressionist, and Neo-Impressionist styles. In 1901 left Weimar for Hagen at urging of collector Karl Ernst Osthaus, who offered him a studio in the modern art museum he was establishing there. Through this exposure to the avant-garde, including meeting Edvard Munch in 1904 and Emil Nolde a year later, and seeing Van Gogh's choppy brushstrokes and vibrant coloring, his work moved into its final, Expressionist phase.

Made first of 185 prints at age sixty, in 1908, after seeing an exhibition of Brücke prints. Aside from two lithographs, worked exclusively in woodcut and linoleum cut. Rarely editioned his work, preferring to create unique or variant impressions by hand-printing his own blocks, which he inked with a brush and then printed through rubbing or by applying pressure from a weighted cigar box. Concentrated mostly on figurative subjects, as well as biblical themes in response to World War I. Stopped making new motifs in 1926, but continued printing new impressions from old blocks.

In 1937 Nazis expelled him from the Prussian Academy of Arts, condemned him as degenerate, and removed 412 of his works from public collections.

Selected Bibliography

Luckow, Dirk, Magdalena M. Moeller, and Peter Thurmann. Christian Rohlfs: Die Begegnung mit der Moderne. Exh. cat. Berlin: Brücke-Museum, 2005.

Utermann, Wilfried. Christian Rohlfs: Das druckgraphische Gesamtwerk. Exh. cat., Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, and Museum Folkwang, Essen. Dortmund, West Germany: Galerie Utermann, 1987.

Vogt, Paul. Christian Rohlfs: Das graphische Werk. Recklinghausen, West Germany: Aurel Bongers, 1960.

Heather Hess

Works by Christian Rohlfs

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