Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)

Steinbruch bei Wildboden

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
Steinbruch bei Wildboden
signed 'EL Kirchner' (lower right); indistinctly signed again, dated and inscribed 'EL Kirchner 23 Da/Aa 38 Wildboden mit Steinbruch' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
47¼ x 35½ in. (120.1 x 90.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1923
The artist's estate, Davos.
Mr and Mrs Sam Jaffe, London.
Buchholz Gallery, New York, by 1950.
Cynthia Warrick Kemper, Missouri; sale, Christie's, London, 27 June 1988, lot 47.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, 8 May 1991, lot 25.
Acquired at the above sale by the previous owner.
D.E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, 1968, no. 816 (illustrated p. 384, dated '1925').
Frankfurt, Galerie Ludwig Schames, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, November - December 1925, no. 55.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University, Bush-Reisinger Museum, Kirchner, December 1950 - January 1951 (dated '1923').
New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, April - May 1952, no. 13 (illustrated, dated '1923').
Los Angeles, Paul Kantor Gallery, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, April - May 1957, no. 8.
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Lot Essay

Steinbruch bei Wildboden represents the wealth of new pictorial material Kirchner encountered near Davos-Frauenkirch, where he had first been encouraged to move in 1917, in order to convalesce from a nervous breakdown and general ill health after his military service. This dense forest scene captures the monumentality of nature on the Wilboden near the entrance of the Sertig valley, where Kirchner was to live and work from 1923 until his death in 1938. This new mountainside lifestyle was accompanied by an abrupt and radical change in the subject-matter of Kirchner's work as he began to paint the villages, the farmers at work, and above all, the magnificent landscape with its dramatic mountains, peaceful pastures and thick woods. Kirchner's art sprang directly from his own experiences and this view of a local sandstone quarry nestled beneath the precipitous heights of the trees and slopes represents the harmonious coexistence of man and nature that he encountered in this demanding terrain. In this way, Kirchner elevates landscape into the realm of personal expression, fusing a feeling for the sublimity of nature with a small sign of human endeavour in a way that aligns his art with the great tradition of Romantic landscape painting.

As his health returned and he reached a calmer state of mind, Kirchner's art also became calmer. The nervous agitation that had entered his work in Berlin steadily ebbed away through the 1920s towards a greater sense of balance and composure that was in keeping with the general trend for order throughout Europe during the interwar period. Kirchner himself spoke of a 'tapestry style', meaning that his paintings were constructed like weaving designs, in which the subject is built up from component areas of vivid colour. This ever-increasing simplification and stylization of forms is evident in Steinbruch bei Wildboden, where the rigid compositional structure and disciplined brushwork attain a new level of decorative beauty. Kirchner's reference to tapestry was closely related to his own collaboration with the weaver Lise Gujer during this period, which opened up entirely new methods of formal innovation for the artist: 'I see a new way of painting becoming possible,' Kirchner wrote in his diary, 'with more independent planes, toward which I must already have always been steering. The new way of painting in more independent planes marks the beginning of the Wildboden style' (Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner cited in D. Gordon, op. cit., p. 124).

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