“You can understand nothing about art, particularly modern art, if you do not understand that imagination is a value in itself.” - Milan Kundera
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, original name Karl Schmidt (born December 1, 1884, Rottluff, near Chemnitz, Germany - died August 9, 1976, West Berlin), was a German painter and printmaker who was noted for his Expressionist landscapes and nudes. His father was a miller and his childhood unremarkable. In 1905 Schmidt-Rottluff began to study architecture in at Dresden Technical University, where he and his friend Erich Heckel met Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl, two other architecture students who shared their passion for painting. Together they formed the organisation of Expressionist artists known as Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), united by the goal of creating a modern, intensely emotional style.
The artists of Die Brücke typically preferred to portray scenes of urban life, but Schmidt-Rottluff is particularly known for his rural landscapes. He initially painted in an Impressionist style, but his painting Windy Day (1907) shows the artist’s transition to his mature style, which is characterised by flat areas of boldly dissonant colours. A representative example of this mature work is “Self-Portrait with Monocle” (1910). Like the other Brücke artists, Schmidt-Rottluff had also begun to explore the expressive potential of the woodcut medium.
In 1911 Schmidt-Rottluff, with his fellow Die Brücke members, moved to Berlin, where he painted works with more angular, geometric forms and distorted space, revealing his new interest in Cubism and African sculpture. While serving on the Eastern Front, he did a cycle of religious woodcuts in which he tried to come to terms with the horrors of war. It is regarded as his graphic masterpiece. In 1918 he returned to Berlin. During the 1920s he reverted to the work rhythm of travelling to paint during the summers and working in his studio during the winters.
During the 1920s Schmidt-Rottluff’s work became more subdued and harmonious, losing much of its former vigour and integrity. Stays in Pomerania, at Lake Leba in Ticino and in the Taunus Mountains as well as a stint in Rome to study at the German Academy in the Villa Massimo (1930) inspired his mature still lifes and landscapes. When the Nazis gained power in Germany, he was forbidden to paint. After World War II he taught art and resumed painting, although he never regained the power of his early works.
Schmidt-Rottluff outdid his colleagues in insisting on pure primary colours and his Expressionist paintings were dominated by forceful handling of the medium to achieve intensity and brilliance. His work is striking with powerful brushstrokes and determined, almost brutal outlining of his subject and broad expanses of colour that seem to do battle on the canvas. His landscapes and still lifes are vibrant and display an almost violent depiction of movement and action. The “Lakeshore” of 1937 seen above is a case in point.
In 1956 this renewer of art, who had been an arch revolutionary in his youth, was awarded the highest (West) German distinction, the “Pour le Mérite” order, and was honoured as a classic. The Brücke Museum, which he had endowed with a collection of his works, was inaugurated in 1967. Numerous retrospectives in the Federal Republic paid tribute to this artist, who, as art historians unanimously agree, was one of the most important German Expressionists.
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