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GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM LITHOGRAPHY

Lithography

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Hannah Dancing (1910)

Lithography was invented in 1798 by Aloys Senefelder and was used initially for printing sheet music. By the 1890s, artists including Pierre Bonnard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec had adapted it for artistic purposes, using it to create color prints and posters. Lithography can be one of the most direct printmaking mediums, since images are executed on a flat surface—either a polished limestone slab or an aluminum plate—in much the same manner as crayon drawings or watercolors on paper. After chemicals are used to securely bond the image to the stone or plate, it can be inked and printed. The Expressionists—and many other artists—capitalized on the variety of lines and painterly effects that can be achieved in lithography.

<i>Hannah Dancing</i>

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Hannah Dancing

(1910)

Lithograph

For the artists of the Brücke group, printmaking served creative, not reproductive, ends. Kirchner and Heckel developed an innovative technique that allowed them to hand print their lithographs in their own studio, rather than having to take their litho stones to a professional printer. In a deliberate rejection of the uniform editions produced by commercial printshops, they wrested unique effects from each print they pulled. During his long printmaking career, Kirchner used only a few lithographic stones. He typically printed only a few impressions of any lithograph before grinding the surface off the stone and starting a new one. This is the only known version of Hannah Dancing, a print that exemplifies the atmosphere of freedom from prewar bourgeois social codes that the Brücke artists crafted.
<i>In the Meadow</i>

Erich Heckel

In the Meadow

1912

Lithograph

The artists of the Brücke saw lithography as the printmaking technique closest to drawing. For them, the medium lent itself especially well to capturing spontaneous moments and effects, as in this image of two nudes relaxing in nature, which has the fresh quality of an open-air sketch. Their innovative hand-printing techniques, however, made clear that this object is a print. Heckel’s image goes to the edge of the stone, the outline of which is visible in the print, and his handling of the surface with acid and turpentine left chunky particles of color that could only have resulted from the printing process.
<i>Streetlife in Dresden</i>

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Streetlife in Dresden

1908

Lithograph

This print reprises the composition of Kirchner’s painting Street, Dresden (also in the Museum’s collection). This black-and-white print extinguishes the electric colors of the painting and dunks the city into a penumbral darkness that suggests the mystery of urban life as figures quickly pass and disappear. Kirchner printed this work by hand, without using a press, from a stone he used for 60 lithographs he made in Dresden between 1908 and 1911. He also experimented with applying a turpentine solution to the stone before printing, to create softer tonalities and subtly mottled textures.
<i>Athlete</i>

Max Pechstein

Athlete

1909

Lithograph

Pechstein considered the prints he made between 1908 and 1909 to be among his best works. He had recently settled in Berlin and had embraced the energy of the city and the unconventional characters he met there—like this modern figure of an athlete. Like other members of the Brücke group, Pechstein hand printed his lithographs and emphasized the graphic quality of the work by showing the edge of the stone. The surface of the print seems to disintegrate under Pechstein’s experimental use of acid and turpentine.
<i>Man in a Top Hat I</i>

Emil Nolde

Man in a Top Hat I

(1911)

Lithograph

Nolde created a bold outline of a man’s body in the print on the left with a thick swoop of the brush. He barely adumbrated the sitter’s features (it is his patron and cataloger, Gustav Schiefler), which disappear into inky blackness on the right. This print marked a turning point in Nolde’s use of the lithographic medium. While he had previously used transfer lithography (a process in which the artist creates an image on a specially coated paper and then has it transferred to the lithographic stone), from this point forward, he drew directly on the stone with a brush and engaged in increasingly bold experiments.
<i>Dancer</i>

Emil Nolde

Dancer

1913

Lithograph

Dancer was the last of 13 lithographs Nolde made in 1913 during an eight-week residency at the Westphalen printshop in Flensburg. Commercial printers typically focus on producing uniform editions. Nolde, however, was allowed to engage in what he called “audacious stupidities” at the printshop, and he marveled at the unexpected color variants that resulted from his willful experimentation. Of all the prints he made in Flensburg, this was his favorite.
<i>Young Couple</i>

Emil Nolde

Young Couple

(1913)

Lithograph

As Gustav Schiefler, the cataloger of Nolde’s prints, remarked, “He does not see the world in lines, but in colors.” During his stay at the Westphalen printshop, Nolde made 68 color variants of this print. He reveled in what he called the “pure sensual abandon and creative joy” he felt while experimenting with lithography, which yielded unpredictable and sometimes thrilling results as he pulled each print from the press.
<i>Young Couple</i>

Emil Nolde

Young Couple

(1913)

Lithograph

Radically experimental in his approach to lithography, Nolde warned Schiefler in 1913 that his latest works, “cannot even be catalogued. Again and again I altered stones and colors, for eight weeks from morning until night.” His different uses of color altered the mood and expressive content of the image. In this printing of Young Couple (one of the 68 variants he made in Flensburg), the vibrant red imbues the scene with a fiery erotic energy and passion.
<i>Evening Patrol</i>

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Evening Patrol

(1915)

Lithograph

The traumatic effects of Kirchner’s experiences during World War I are revealed in the frenetic, gestural style of this lithograph. Kirchner printed this image by hand, using the unconventional technique he had developed with Heckel before the war, and extended the image to the edge of the stone to provide visual documentation that this was a print, not a drawing. He also washed the stone with a turpentine solution to loosen and smear some of the crayon particles, an effect that lends the image a nervous, vibrating quality. This print was made from a stone Kirchner had used since 1908. Lithographic stones were valuable, and Kirchner made most of his prints from five known stones.
<i>Nocturnal Apparition</i>

Otto Dix

Nocturnal Apparition

1923

Lithograph

Dix began seriously exploring lithography in 1923, making twenty-some works that year alone. (He had been introduced to the medium a few years earlier by Conrad Felixmüller in Dresden.) This print explores his favored subject at the time: the interconnectedness of sex and death. Nestled between the richly printed, inky black markers of fashion and wealth, Dix has scratched away the flesh from the prostitute’s face, reducing her to a terrifying skeleton with a grimace of nubby teeth, while the shadowy crowd of the city street mills behind her.
<i>Death Grabbing at a Group of Children</i>

Käthe Kollwitz

Death Grabbing at a Group of Children

(1934)

Lithograph

Kollwitz felt lithography allowed her to concentrate fully on her message, rather than on technical challenges; she drew on transfer paper and did not print the works herself. She frequently used lithography for her most socially engaged prints, and she turned again to the medium’s directness and immediacy for her final print cycle, Death. Here, she powerfully expresses the cruel randomness of death, which strikes down even innocent victims indiscriminately.
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