About this work
Iris Schmeisser, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner illustrated the 1924 reprint of Umbra Vitae (Shadow of life), a posthumous collection of Georg Heym's Expressionist poems that was first published in 1912, the year of the poet's premature death, at age twenty-four, by drowning. Kirchner, who owned a copy of the earlier edition and knew the poems very well, designed all of the elements himself, including the 46 woodcuts throughout the book; the color woodcuts on the cover, the frontispiece, and the front and back endpapers; and the bold grotesque typography (fette Groteskletter). The illustrations, printed in a blacklike brown, serve as visual correlatives to Heym's hauntingly poetic images of "life's shadow." The dark side of life—death, war, madness, alienation, loneliness, and anxiety—was a recurrent theme in Heym's poetry.
The book's forty-three poems had been compiled by Heym's friends from the Expressionist literary group Der Neue Club (The new club) in Berlin. Ernst Rowohlt, in Leipzig, published the first edition. Editor Hans Mardersteig, on behalf of publishing house Kurt Wolff in Munich, invited Kirchner to illustrate the reprint. The book is titled after one of Heym's poems.