Professor lIana Grimes
29 October 2014
The Terror That Defined a Generation World War I is arguably one of the most influential events of the 20th century as it encompassed destruction in a level never seen before in history. The war brought upon wrecking of entire cities, deaths of millions of soldiers and civilians, and the fall of many nations, causing an extreme change for the people involved. This distortion of human nature profoundly changed the arts, both visual and literary, and with it came a new wave of expression, an expression filled with darkness and chaos. To better explain how the mayhem of World War I influenced the arts, we can look at an artist involved in this turning point event of the 20th century, German expressionist Ernst Kirchner. As a volunteer for military service during World War I, Kirchner experienced firsthand the horrors of this brutal war thus brings crucial insight into the consequences of the war. The contrasts between the erotically charged Self-Portrait with Model and the ruins of a former human in Self-Portrait as Soldier can be precisely traced to his experience as a soldier in World War I as a turning point in his life, creating a Kirchner before and after the war. His suffering exemplifies the great influence of combat brought upon the arts. Before making the connection between the war and his paintings, a brief summary of both World War I and Kirchner himself are needed to understand the relationship better. ………Kirchner Biography. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was born in 1880 in Aschaffenburg, German Empire, studied architecture at the Dresden Technical High School in which he became more interested in art rather than architecture. Along with Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel, they formed the artist group Die Brücke, a concept of a “bridge” between the traditional style and a new mode of artistic expression. Kirchner was a quite unique painter, as it changed according to the period of his life, being colorful, expressive, and simplified forms, while they turned filled with angst during his crisis after the war, and finally settling into a calmer two-dimensionality in the 20s. Kirchner was at the forefront of the Expressionist movement in Germany, later gaining him recognition in America. In 1914, Kirchner entered military service for the war, being later discharged after a mental breakdown. Despite a successful career, illness caused by the war drove him away to Davos, Switzerland, where he wilted away from the mainstream German scene and eventually committed suicide after the Nazis rose to power in the early 1930s.
World War I Synopsis. The Great War was a global conflict centered in Europe in 1914 until 1918; it encompassed the Allies (United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire) and the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). The war involved around 70 million military personnel and resulted in 37 million casualties. The domino that triggered this worldwide chaos was the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by a Yugoslav nationalist, which set off a chain effect and within weeks, the major powers were at war. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, the Austro-Hungarian Empire agreed to an armistice. The end of the war caused the end of the German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian empires, the rise of countries in Europe and the Middle East, and it saw the establishment of the League of Nations among other effects.
Now with the background out of the way, the connection between the change of Kirchner’s expression in his work and World War I can be mended. The relationship between the two is not quite far-fetched, as Kirchner created his art at the epicenter of destruction, it is undeniable that this would’ve created or sparked a reaction in him and his work. Even before the war, however, his movement was motivated by the fears of modern society and its place within the world, of the