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.
In Totentanz (Dance of death) Lovis Corinth modernizes a theme that German printmakers had explored since the sixteenth century, the inevitability of death. Corinth made these five prints in the last years of his life. Depicting a skeletal figure visiting him, his friends, and his family, the artist personalized the experience of dying. The portfolio exemplifies the highly expressionistic style he developed after having a stroke in 1911. In the opening print, Tod und Künstler (Death and the artist), Death looms over and trains his empty eye sockets on Corinth, who looks up, knowingly, from the print he is etching. On Corinth's wrist, evoking the ceaseless passage of time, is a watch given to him by his beloved wife, Charlotte, who herself appears in Tod und Weib (Death and the woman), cradling Death in her arms. Death looks small and fragile next to Corinth's teenage son in Tod und Jüngling (Death and the youth), unlike the robust figure who casts an ominous shadow over the artist's father in Tod und Greis (Death and the old man). The final print shows the artist Hermann Struck—who had tutored Corinth in printmaking and encouraged him to explore drypoint and the other techniques used in these prints—and his wife, Mally, confronting Death together.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.