Erich Erler Biography

Erich Erler




Painter, printmaker, designer, and illustrator Erich Erler, also known as Erich Erler-Samedan or, simply, Samedan, was born in on December 16, 1870, in Silesia, Prussia (now Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland). Originally trained as a printer and book maker, he also worked as an editor, publishing the cycles Totentanz and Die Nibelungen. He contracted tuberculosis in the late 1890s, forcing him to relocate to the Swiss village of Samedan to convalesce. To pass the time, he taught himself how to paint, beginning with temperas, and soon he was traveling throughout the region capturing the mountain landscapes and the local people he met along the way.

Around this time he met the Italian-Swiss alpine painter Giovanni Segantini who encouraged Erler to pursue painting seriously, and introduced him to various artists and collectors. Among these new acquaintances was the Neissers, a prominent Jewish family in Breslau whose circle of friends and patrons included Gerhart Hauptmann, Richard Strauss, and Dr. Oskar Bernard, among others. They would become Erler and his brother Fritz's first major patrons.

By 1900 he had established residences in both Samedan and Munich, and joined the Die Scholle group with whom he regularly exhibited. In 1905 he built a studio in Holzhausen with his brother Fritz, turning down offers of employment as an art teacher to focus on his own works. With the onset of World War I, and despite the poor condition of his lungs, he joined the Germany Army and was sent to the frontlines. The horrors he witnessed left him unable to pursue art for a time; after completing the War and From the Front cycles, he retired with his wife Olga to Icking and worked as a farm laborer for several years. Though his artistic output had dwindled, paintings from the 1930s and early '40s are recorded.

Erich Erler's life and identity as a German-Swiss artist during the two World Wars is the cause of conflicting opinion. Despite owing their artistic development to the patronage of Jewish collectors Antonia and Albert Neisser, Erich's brother Fritz would go on to become one of Hitler's five major "court artists", creating propaganda posters for the Nazi regime. Meanwhile, Erich's own work was included in nationalistic German art exhibits of the 1930s that highlighted "God-gifted" artists chosen by Hitler; however, Erich himself was monitored by the Gestapo and he appears to have stopped participating in the art world in the late 1930s. Much of the work that was included in these shows was confiscated by occupying forces after the Second World War and destroyed. 

Erler died in Icking on June 19, 1946.