Ernst Barlach

Ernst Barlach

Ernst Barlach (January 2, 1870 – October 24, 1938) was a German expressionist sculptor, printmaker and writer. Although he was a supporter of the war in the years leading to World War I, his participation in the war made him change his position, and he is mostly known for his sculptures protesting against the war. This created many conflicts during the rise of the Nazi Party, when most of his works were confiscated as degenerate art.



Barlach was born in Wedel in Holstein by the river Elbe, just west of Hamburg, as the oldest of the four sons of Johanna Luise Barlach and Dr Georg Barlach. His brothers were Hans (1871) and the twins Nikolaus and Joseph (1872). He attended primary school in Ratzeburg. It was during this period that his father died, early in 1884.

tudy Years

Barlach studied from 1888 to 1891 at the Gewerbeschule Hamburg. Due to his artistic talent, he continued his studies at the "Königlichen Akademie der bildenden Künste zu Dresden" (Royal Art School Dresden) as a student of Robert Diez between 1891 and 1895. He created his first major sculpture during this time, "Die Krautpflückerin" (The Herb Plucker). He continued his studies for one more year in Paris at the Académie Julian, but remained critical of the German tendency to copy the style of French artists. Nevertheless he returned to Paris again for a few months in 1897 to undertake further studies.


After his studies, Barlach worked for some time as a sculptor in Hamburg and Altona, working mainly in an Art Nouveau style. He produced illustrations for the Art Nouveau magazine Jugend 1897-1902, and made sculpture in a style close to Art Nouveau, including some ceramic statues. Afterwards, he also worked as a teacher at a school for ceramics. His first solo exhibition took place at the Kunstsalon Richard Mutz, Berlin, in 1904.

Formative years

However, the lack of commercial success of his works depressed Barlach. To lighten up, he decided to travel for eight weeks together with his brother Nikolaus and to visit his brother Hans in Russia. This trip to Russia in 1906 was one of the greatest influences on him and his artistic style. Also during his travels in Russia his son Nikolaus was born on August 20 1906, starting a two-year fight with the mother, Rosa Schwab, for the custody of the child, which Barlach was finally granted.

After returning from Russia, Barlach's financial situation improved considerably, as he received a fixed salary from the art dealer Paul Cassirer in exchange for his sculptures. The formative experiences in Russia and the financial security helped him to develop his own style, focusing on the faces and hands of the people in his sculptures and reducing the other parts of the figures to a minimum. He also began to make wood carvings and bronzes of figures swathed in heavy drapery like those in early Gothic art, and in dramatic attitudes expressive of powerful emotions and a yearning for spiritual ecstasy. He also worked for the German journal "Simplicissimus", and started to produce some literature. His works were shown on various exhibitions. He also spent ten months in Florence, Italy in 1909 and afterwards settled in 1910 in Güstrow in Mecklenburg, where he spent the rest of his life.

In the years before World War I, Barlach was a patriotic and enthusiastic supporter of the war, awaiting a new artistic age from the war. This support for the war can also be seen in his works, as for example the statue "Der Rächer" (The Avenger), from December 1914. His awaited "new artistic age" came for him when he volunteered to join the war between 1915 and 1916 as an infantry soldier, and he returned as a pacifist and a staunch opponent of war. The horror of the war influenced all of his subsequent works.


Barlach's fame increased after the war, and he received many awards and became a member in the prestigious "Preußischen Akademie der Künste" (Prussian Art Academy) in 1919 and the "Akademie der Bildenden Künste München" (Munich Art Academy) in 1925. Barlach rejected a number of honorary degrees and teaching positions. In 1925 he also met Bernhard and Marga Böhmer for the first time. He received the Kleist Prize for drama in 1924 for his "Die Sündflut" ("The Flood"), in which he projects his personal mysticism onto the story of Noah and the Ark. In 1926 he wrote "Der blaue Boll" (translated as "Squire Blue Boll" or "Boozer Boll"), an expressionist drama in which the eponymous squire almost succeeds in seducing a down-and-out young mother, before both achieve spiritual regeneration.See Banham (1998) and Ritchie (1968).]

Degenerate art

From 1928 onward Barlach also generated many anti-war sculptures based on his experiences in the war. This pacifist position went against the political trend during the rise of Nazism, and he was the target of much criticism. For example, the "Magdeburger Ehrenmal" (Magdeburg cenotaph) was ordered by the city of Magdeburg to be a memorial of World War I, and it was expected to show heroic German soldiers fighting for their glorious country. Barlach, however, created a sculpture with a French, German, and Russian soldier showing the horror, pain and desperation of the war. This naturally created a controversy with the pro-war population, and the sculpture was removed. Friends of Barlach were able to hide the sculpture until after the war, when it was returned to the Magdeburg Cathedral. Yet the attacks on Barlach continued until his death.

In 1931 Barlach started to live with Marga Böhmer, whereas her ex-husband and Barlach's friend Bernhard Böhmer lived with his new wife Hella.

In 1936, Barlach's works were confiscated during an exhibition together with the works of Käthe Kollwitz and Wilhelm Lehmbruck, and the majority of his remaining works were confiscated as "degenerate art", for example the "Güstrower Ehrenmal" (Güstrow cenotaph) and the "Hamburger Ehrenmal" (Hamburg cenotaph). Barlach himself was prohibited from working as a sculptor, and his membership in the art academies was canceled. This rejection is reflected in his final works before his death on October 24 1938 in Rostock, Mecklenburg. He is buried in the cemetery of Ratzeburg.

In addition to his sculpture, Barlach also wrote eight Expressionist dramas, two novels and an autobiography "Ein selbsterzähltes Leben" 1928, and had a distinguished oeuvre of woodcuts and lithographs from about 1910 onwards, including illustrations for his own plays.


*1894 "Die Krautpflückerin" (The Herb Plucker)
*1908 "Sitzendes Weib" (Sitting Woman), Nürnberg
*1914 "Der Rächer" (The Avenger)
*1917 "Der tote Tag" ("The Dead Day", play)
*1919 "Der arme Vetter" ("The Poor Cousin", play)
*1920 "Die Wandlungen Gottes: Der Gotliche Bettler" (Transfiguration of God: Third Day)
*1921 "Die echten Sedemunds" ("The Real Sedemunds", play)
*1924 "Die Sintflut" ("The Flood", play)
*1926 "Der blaue Boll" ("Squire Blue Boll", play)
*1927 "Güstrower Ehrenmal" (Güstrow cenotaph), Güstrow
*1927 "Der schwebende Engel" (The Floating Angel)
*1928 "Der singende Mann" (The Singing Man), Nürnberg
*1928 "Der Geistkämpfer" (The Ghost Fighter), Kiel
*1929 "Magdeburger Ehrenmal" (Magdeburg cenotaph), Cathedral of Magdeburg, Magdeburg
*1930 "Bettler auf Krücken" (Beggar on Crutches )
*1931 "Hamburger Ehrenmal" (Hamburg cenotaph), Hamburg
*1936 "Der Buchleser" (The Book Reader), Schwerin

Works cited

* Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. "Barlach, Ernst" In "The Cambridge Guide to Theatre." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521434378. p.78-79.
* Ritchie, James McPherson, ed. 1968 "Seven Expressionist Plays". German Expressionism Ser. London: John Calder, Dallas: Riverrun, 1980. ISBN 0714505218.


External links

* [ site to Ernst Barlach]
* [ Ernst Barlach Society, Hamburg] Retrieved 15 July, 2007.

NAME=Ernst Barlach
SHORT DESCRIPTION=German expressionist sculptor
DATE OF BIRTH=January 2, 1870
PLACE OF BIRTH=Wedel, Pinneberg, Germany
DATE OF DEATH=October 24, 1938
PLACE OF DEATH=Rostock, Germany

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