Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Studio Cats

This is a plunge into the unknown. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is a well known German impressionist painter who committed suicide in 1938 after the Nazis sold or destroyed more than 600 of his paintings. He was also upset with the Nazi occupation of Austria. He wasn’t the only person. I think he was a brave soul too.

I wonder what happened to the paintings that were forcibly sold (or perhaps stolen)? Did they find their way back to his estate and beneficiaries? I ask because they would be very valuable today if they still exist. In 2006 one of his paintings, Street Scene, Berlin (1913) was sold for $38 million at auction.

Kirchner started out as an architect and then decided to devote his life to impressionist painting, breaking free from the establishment. He appears to have been a bohemian type who rejected the status quo inline with the impression that we have of impressionist painters.

He had his fair share of trauma having suffered from a mental breakdown after fighting in the first world war. It took him two years to recover in a sanatorium.

I think he kept domestic cats! Artists often do. Writers do as well. Cats are great companions for creative people.

I think he kept two cats; one tabby and one black and white. At least that appears to be the case towards the end of his life because you can see them in a painting of his titled Bergatelier, which translated from the German reads “mountain studio”. It was painted in 1937, one year before he took his life and when he was well known and “successful”.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Bergatelier 1937

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Bergatelier 1937

If they are his cats they are friendly with each other as you can see in his painting. You can also see in this painting Kirchner’s fondness for painting nudes. There appears to be groups of naked people dotted around the studio in various shapes and sizes doing various bohemian things.

I am neither sure what “mountain studio” refers to nor in which town it is situated. I think it might be in a town called Frauenkirch but there is more than one. I think Marc might be able to help me out on that. “Mountain studio” might refer to a studio in the attic, at the top of the building. You can see the roof joists etc. in the painting. Perhaps someone smarter and wiser than me can clarify.

If this is an attic studio and if these are his two cats then they were full-time indoor cats and their human companion died before both of them. A very sad ending for a very talented artist.

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Studio Cats — 5 Comments

  1. Thanks for the education Michael. I was sitting here like I do most early mornings with my “bedroom cat” on my lap, sketching him. I must have 60 fast sketches of him at this point. The graceful lines of a cat are difficult to catch as Kirchner did so simply. The anatomy story you did last week is helpful. I sketched that too!

    It is a shame that much of Kirchner’s work is probably lost.


  2. A very sad predicament for his cats too. I am not sure that it means attic but I will see if I can find out. Your translation seems correct – i.e.: a studio in the mountains, perhaps where he was working or a place one must assume he knew I guess. The Nazis really were awful to no end – my father’s father (my gf) was jewish and they had to escape france during the war in a small gas (not petrol) powered car. They got through spain and on a boat to america. My grandfather was an inventor of sorts and owned a company with many patents including the self sealing fuel tank which prevented planes going down when shot in the fuel tank. When they arrived on Ellis island the Americans told him to hand over his patents and whatever of his company he could or else they would send him and my dad and grandmother back to europe to be killed by the Nazis. So Dunlop took all his rights to his patents and inventions and they lived. He went back after the war and rebuilt his business. Having your life’s work be it in the form of hundereds of paintings just taken from you is enough to make person fall totally apart I have no doubt of that. Plus for an artist it really is his paintngs as objects that he worked so hard on all his life. I am not suprised he killed himself. I’m sure his cats were the only reason he had left to live at that point. The germans wanted all the art they could get their hands on. It was part of their conquest – to take it or destroy it if it could not be taken. Luckily Hitler didnt manage to blow up every last beautiful building or monumnet in paris. He tried – because he couldnt take the Arch de Triomphe home so he wanted it destroyed instead. To be honest I am glad the whole of Berlin got flattened – every last damn little bit. And then the rest of europe rebuilt germany and now germany has all the money. How bout that. We have a financial war now and this time Germany is winning I suppose. Unless your in Switzerland – maybe. Sorry to go on. But I honestly think the Germans did not approve of his art. Hitler wanted traditional art wit beauty and landscapes and impressionism if anything. He hated abstract art and even but on 2 exhibitions before the war – one for his stuff he likes – beatiful german landscapes with arien people walking around and another with picasso and cubism and all the stuff he hated and he even called it an exhibition of bad art thinking the people would see the difference and agree – but in the end everybody preferred it and the exhibition he was promoting got few visitors which drove him a bit nuts – not that he wasnt already. Im sorry I dont have any names for you of these events. The point is I know that this chaps art will have probably been either used for money or destroyed as ‘bad’ art – not proper beautiful realistic bla bla bla art that Hitler promoted in his Nazi ideaology. Dont forget Hitler was himself a failed artist.
    So poor Kirchner must have felt total despair especially being in Austria. Perhaps being a purveyor of bad art put his life in greater danger.
    I just wonder what happened to his little cats after he died. Did they die out on the streets? What happened to them…. If it really was in the mountains then I wonder if they were taken in or fed by a neighbour or villager in the same place living nearby. If it was the city then I wonder how the average person was towards a stray cat in those days and times. So many questions.
    My grandfather lost everything except his son andhis wife – and he escaped although it was the country he escaped to that took everything from him. But still. He had a reason to live. Lucky for me 🙂

    • Yes, the Nazi found his art degenerate. They were reactionaries I guess. I think Kirchner must have hated the whole culture of the time. It must have looked black. I can see that. He was 58 when he died. At 58 depression sets in anyway 🙂 because you have seen it and done it and it doesn’t look great. I really admire these creative guys. It would be nice to believe that a friend of Kirchner took the cats in and cared for them.

      Marc, you have a distinguished family.

      • SadlyI never met my grandparents and now my father is dead the only person left is my half brother. We are the last 2 with that surname. But in a world with too many people I think it quite good to be the last – perhaps if I dont have children and my brother doesnt (he won’t) then we will do the world a favour by ending at least one familly on this overcrowded planet. I feel that would be a good thing. I dont have this need to carry on myself in some way on this planet. 🙂

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