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The Mysteries of Material
Kirchner, Heckel and

26 June 2019–13 Oct 2019

About the Exhibition

No material bears as close a connection to the art of German Expressionism as wood. The product of a natural growth process, wood appealed to the “Brücke” co-founders Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. In dialogue with it, they created woodcuts and sculptures of great expressive force. 

In a special exhibition, the Städel Museum explored the reciprocal relationships between woodcut and wooden sculpture in the oeuvres of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938), Erich Heckel (1883–1970) and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884–1976). The show’s starting point was wood, which is more closely bound to the art of German Expressionism than any other material. What appealed to the artists especially about wood was its unevenness and grain, but also its differing hues and degrees of hardness.

After Kirchner, Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff together formed the “Brücke” artists’ association in Dresden in 1905, the woodcut became one of their most important artistic mediums. Until well into the 1920s/’30s, their specific mode of expression and the pleasure they took in experimentation were particularly evident in the works executed in this printing technique.

What is more, at around the time of their first woodcuts and in close connection to them, the three artists also carved reliefs, nude figures and heads in wood that influenced their woodcuts with regard to both form and contentand vice versa. Showcasing some ninety woodcuts, five woodcut blocks and a series of sculptures, the exhibition explored the artists’ special approach to the printing technique and the handling of the material. The Städel was able to draw on its own holdingsthe collection of the Frankfurt art patron Carl Hagemannfor a large proportion of the works.

Curator: Dr. Regina Freyberger (Head of Prints and Drawings from 1750, Städel Museum)