Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was one of the most important progenitors of German Expressionism. In 1905 he moved to Dresden to study architecture and began experimenting with the woodcut technique the same year. Dropping out of school after one semester, he formed the Brücke (Bridge) group with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl, both of whom he had met through his childhood friend, artist Erich Heckel, also a founder. During his career as a painter and printmaker, Schmidt-Rottluff made more than six hundred printed images in woodcut, lithography, and etching.
The woodcut technique dominated Schmidt-Rottluff’s printed work from approximately 1909 to 1920. By 1911 he had moved to Berlin, where, increasingly exposed to Cubism and African and Oceanic art, his work grew more abstract, with angular lines and flattened shapes. In 1915 he was conscripted into the army and served for three years in Russia and Lithuania before returning to Berlin in 1918. These prints were made during the war years when, traumatized by the brutality he witnessed, Schmidt-Rottluff suffered such extreme anxiety that he was unable to paint and devoted himself to the more therapeutic practice of carving woodblocks and wooden sculpture. Between 1917 and 1919, he devoted himself primarily to religious subjects, including The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, taken from a portfolio of woodcuts depicting scenes from the life of Christ.
Other themes also appear in the artist’s work. In Dunes and Pier, a depiction of Nidden, the village in East Prussia (Lithuania) on the Baltic where Schmidt-Rottluff vacationed, he expresses his belief in the enduring timelessness of nature, while Mother is typical of his monumental and direct treatment of figures at this time. In both works he took advantage of the qualities particular to woodcut, integrating the irregularity of the block, its natural grain and flat, smooth surfaces, into his compositions.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Harper Montgomery, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 64.