An extraordinarily prolific painter, draftsman, and printmaker, Lovis Corinth was one of the most successful artists in Germany in the early twentieth century. His traditional academic training in Königsberg, Munich, and Paris was the catalyst for a lifelong dedication to drawing and to his interest in historical, religious, and mythological subjects. Working in an uncompromisingly realist style throughout his career, Corinth exerted a profound influence on the generation of German painters and printmakers that followed him, in part through his leading role in the Berlin Secession (a group reacting against official policies), and also due to his early engagement with Impressionism and his later Expressionist vision.
Corinth made approximately twelve hundred prints, favoring intaglio and lithography, but briefly exploring woodcut as well. Many prints appeared as book illustrations or within portfolios or cycles focused on themes. Although his first prints were made in the early 1890s, most date from late in his career, after he had received instruction from his friend, the painter and expert printmaker, Hermann Struck.
When a stroke in 1911 caused tremors in his right hand and paralysis to his left side, Corinth began drawing with a more expressive, at times frenetic, and almost violent line, as is particularly evident in his intaglio prints. His early self-portraits had shown the artist as strong, virile, and robust, but in later depictions he appears physically frail and preoccupied with his own mortality, as in his haunting intaglio Death and the Artist of 1921. Here Corinth revives a theme, prevalent in sixteenth-century German art, of the indiscriminate and inevitable nature of death. His dedication to traditional subjects is also evident in numerous images of Christ from this period, the drypoint Crucifixion of 1921, based on a Northern Renaissance altarpiece, being one example.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 66.
Lovis Corinth reworked ten of his paintings as prints for this portfolio, which represents three of his preferred subjects—nudes, history, and literature. The paintings, originally executed between 1896 and 1915, had long since passed from his possession; one had been destroyed during World War I. Many had special significance to Corinth: Totenklage (Death lament) hung in his studio as his daughter was baptized, and Der Sieger (The victor) portrays him and his wife. For these graphic versions, Corinth completely reinterpreted the earlier compositions. In Grablegung (Burial), he reduced the number of figures in order to focus on the dead Jesus. He transformed Die Geburt der Venus (The birth of Venus) from a precisely detailed painting of academic nudes to a sketchy, barely legible swirl of frenetic lines surrounding voluptuous female bodies. These prints showcase Corinth's shift later in life toward a more expressive approach, in which he employed passionate draftsmanship and dramatic contrasts of light and shadow to convey emotion.
In the inflationary print boom of the early 1920s, Corinth eagerly embraced printmaking for its financial promise. Julias Elias, a friend and important art critic, commissioned this portfolio for Propyläen-Verlag, a new fine-art imprint of Germany's largest publishing house at the time, the Berlin-based Ullstein.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.