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A rare album of Kirchner sketches for sale in Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art Auction
A collection of sketches compiled by the artist for his doctor and patron Dr. Frédéric Bauer. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A bound collection of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner sketches, compiled by the artist for his
doctor, comes to the market for the first time since 1954 in Bonhams Impressionist and
Modern Art sale on Thursday 2 March at London New Bond Street. The collection of 40 watercolours and drawings is estimated at £150,000-200,000.

Kirchner (1880-1938) assembled the album as a gift for his doctor, friend and patron Dr. Frédéric Bauer. The artist has inscribed the album, “Drawings from my sketchbooks dating from 1902 to 1933. E. L. Kirchner.” Despite the artist’s precise dating of the sketches, the earliest work in the volume actually dates from around 1906. Kirchner notoriously backdated his work in order to claim artistic precedence, an unnecessary habit considering his trail blazing development of German Expressionism.

Notational sketching lay at the heart of Kirchner’s Expressionist practice. By capturing his subjects in quick drawings, the artist leant them a vivacity that he referred to in his diaries as ‘excitement’, ‘experience’, ‘ecstasy’. As he wrote on the back of one of the sketches in this album (referring to himself in the third person), these drawings were “the absolute key to Kirchner’s oeuvre.” He claimed to always carry a sketchbook, often tucked into especially designed pockets. One of these small books was found on his person on the day of his suicide in 1938.

Kirchner was born in Dresden where he studied art and architecture. On graduation, he cofounded the early German Expressionist group Die Brücke with whom he moved to Berlin in 1911. Die Brücke broke up in 1913 following Kirchner’s claiming the lead role in the group’s history in his Chronik der Brücke. Soon after he suffered a mental and physical breakdown brought on by the horrors of WWI. Moving to Switzerland for his health, the artist enjoyed an inter-war period of growing fame. It was then that he met Bauer, his doctor and most enthusiastic collector. Bauer would receive two books of sketches from the artist, the second (an album of 70 sketches) is now owned by the Folkwang Museum in Essen.

The present album was compiled by the artist in the final moments of calm before the rise of Nazi Germany. It offers an overview of Kirchner’s career as he saw it – full of exuberant line and colour, rich with sexuality and psychological tension.

Interestingly, the majority of the sketches Kirchner chose come from the artist’s earliest, Dresden-based period when his work was preoccupied with colourful, bucolic scenes untainted by big-city life or the war to come. Just five years after giving the book to Bauer, following the Nazi’s defaming of his life’s work in the Degenerate Art Exhibition, Kirchner killed himself.

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