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 Karl Schmidt-Rottluff  (1884 - 1976)

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Lived/Active: Germany      Known for: expressionist painting, woodcuts, linocuts, intaglio, teaching

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Ad Code: 1
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from Auction House Records.
Akte im Freien (Drei badende Frauen)
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Born in 1884 with the name of Karl Schmidt in Rottluff, he added in 1905 the name of Rottluff to his sir name for his birthplace of Rottluff, a district in the town of Chemnitz in Saxony, Germany.  That same year, he was part of a group of German architecture students who, in Dresden, first exhibited together with the name Die Brucke* (The Bridge), an organization that existed until 1913 and whose goal was to "bridge" their modernist, avant-garde* style with the prevalent Romanticism* and other traditional movements of the past.  As a group focused on harsh social realities and inner emotional responses, it had a major impact on paving the way to acceptance of 20th Century modernist art movements. 

Founding members in addition to Schmidt-Rottluff were Fritz Bleyl (1880-1966), Erich Heckel (1883-1970) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938).  Schmidt-Rottluff, who had been much inspired by the expressive power of art he saw at the Ethnographic Museum in Dresden, is credited for naming the group "after a quote by Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra: 'What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end." ( Of the group it is said that Schmidt-Rottluff was the most independent minded and that he, in contrast to the others, was apolitical, and often chose religious themes.

Schmidt-Rottluff had known Heckel since high school and met with him and the others when they all were students at the technical university (Konigliche Technische Hochschule) in Dresden.  They spent much time discussing the inhibiting influence of the academic way in which they were taught art and determined to counter these conservative methods with artwork that brought together German influences of the past with what they foresaw as the future.  Die Brucke artists, leaving their studies at the university, reached back to the influences of German printmaker Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), religious painter Matthias Grunewald (1470-1528), and painter and print maker Lucas Cranach the Elder, (1472-1553).  They reached forward by looking within themselves and and doing much to create the style of Expressionism*. They also invented the printmaking method of linocuts*, utilizing linoleum sheets.

Initially members of Die Brucke lived solo in working class neighborhoods in Dresden to be near 'real' people in rejection of their own privileged upbringings.  They used an empty butcher's shop as a studio, an arrangement made by Erich Heckel.  The studio became a place of casual bohemian living with group 'life-drawing sessions' that became frolicking parties with young female models.  Between 1907 and 1911, they summered at Moritzburg Lakes in Saxony and also went to the island of Fehmarn in the Baltic Sea, off the eastern coast of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

In the fall of 1911, Schmidt-Rottluff and the Die Brucke members moved to Berlin where they met and were reinforced by many other avant-garde leaning artists.  In 1912, Schmidt-Rottluff had his first solo exhibition, which was held at a venue in Hamburg.  The next year, Die Brucke disbanded in a formal sense, but their influence outlived all of them.

During World War I Schmidt-Rottluff volunteered for service, and was stationed on the Eastern front in staff headquarters.  He did wood sculpture in his spare time, and increasingly his work expressed the horrors of the war he saw firsthand.  He also lived through the building up of Nazi aggression.  In 1937, over six hundred of his paintings were seized by the Nazis and exhibited as "degenerate art"*.

In 1947, Schmidt-Rottluff became a professor at the University of Arts in Berlin-Charlottenburg.  In 1967, he founded the Brucke Museum in Berlin.

He died in Berlin in 1976.

His ongoing reputation of excellence is for expressive painting but is especially associated with printmaking.  He completed 446 woodcuts, 121 lithographs, and 96 intaglios.   Most of this work was done between 1905 and 1927, and after that he abandoned graphics.

Wikipedia:;ücke Karl Schmidt-Rottluff Biography

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