Wilhelm Lehmbruck Biography

Wilhelm Lehmbruck




Sculptor, painter, and printmaker Wilhelm Lehmbruck was born in Meiderich (now a part of Duisburg), Germany, on Jaunary 4, 1881, the fourth of eight children born to miner Wilhelm Lehmbruck and his wife, Margaretha. As a youth, his promising talent for visual art was awarded with a stipend from municiple officals to study at the School of Applied Arts in Düsseldorf. By 1899 he was supporting himself financially by doing illustrations for scientific publications. This allowed him to train at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and he became associated with the Düsseldorf School of painting from 1901 to 1906. In 1904 a visit to the International Art Exhibition, Düsseldorf, changed his artistic path: his discovery of the work of Auguste Rodin, so unlike the decorative, neo-classical style Lehmbruck was familiar with, appealed to his own introspective and emotive style. He began to search out the work of Expressionists, traveling throughout Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Paris. He exhibited for the first time at the Deutsche Kunstausstellung in Cologne in 1906, and in 1907 he was invited to exhibit at the Paris Salon - an event he would regularly participate in. In 1908 he married Anita Kaufmann, with whom he would have three sons.

In 1910 the Lehmbrucks moved to Paris. Wilhelm would frequent the
Café du Dôme where he became acquainted with fellow modernists Modigliani, BrâncuČ™i, and Archipenko, and he was able to secure an introduction to Rodin. His reputation was such that he had regular collectors, and that year he was approached by Berlin publisher Paul Cassirer with an offer to publish small editions of Lehmbruck's drypoints, which had gained recognition for their sketch-like, sensitive beauty. This would prove a lasting and successful partnership, and Cassirer would print the final edition after Lehmbruck's death. Exhibitions grew more frequent, with several shows at Galerie Levesque, Salon of the Societe nationale des beaux-arts, the Berlin Secession, the Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne, and at the Grand Palais. In 1912, he exhibited in the Folkwang Museum in Hagen with Egon Schiele, and the following year he participated in the seminal Armory Show in New York City.

The onset of World War I forced the Lehmbrucks to return to Germany, and Wilhelm served as a paramedic at a military hospital in Berlin, allowing him some time to continue working. The hospital took a toll, however, and the misery he witnessed there was reflected in his late work, such as the sculpture Fallen Man (1915–16). He himself suffered from depression which was exacerbated by this experience, and, after being released from his duties due to a hearing impairment in 1916, he moved his family to Switzerland to wait out the war and to attempt to relieve his distress. In Zurich he made contact with the socialist L. Rubiner, who collaborated on Franz Pfemfert's Aktion, and with the Expressionist dramatist Fritz von Unruh and the poet Albert Ehrenstein. These connections inspired his work and cemented his political stance; however, at this time his marriage began to crumble and his mental health began to decline.

In 1919, just after the end of the war, he returned to Berlin to work on a commission, and was offered a position at the Prussian Academy of Arts. However, he could not escape his crippling depression and, just six days after his return, he committed suicide on March 25, 1919.

His art remained a source of inspiration - and then of controversy when, during the Nazi regime, it was deemed "degenerate" and removed from public view. Upon the end of the Second World War, what could be recovered of Lehmbruck's work was returned to the public. As the collection of his work grew, it would be memorialized at the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum. Designed by Lehmbruck's son Manfred, the museum in Druisburg now features upwards of 1,140 Wilhelm Lehmbruck works, as well as rotating shows featuring artist's from all over the world.

Lehmbruck's work is also held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii.