Ernst Barlach (German, 1870 - 1938)

Ernst Barlach - Russian Beggar Woman, 1907
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Artist Biography: Ernst Barlach was born in Wede, Holsteini in 1870. He was a German sculptor, illustrator, and playright, whose art was condemned by the Nazis as “degenerate” and presented in the exhibition Entartete Kunst.

In 1888 he entered the Hamburg School of Arts and Crafts. From 1891 to1895 he studied sculpture and design at the Dresden Academy of Arts. He then went to Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian in 1895-96, and worked as a sculptor. From 1901 to 1905 he designed ceramics for the Muntz factory in Wedel and during this period he became friends with the publisher Reinhard Piper. Another important supporter was the art dealer Paul Cassirer, who also helped Oskar Kokoschka.

In 1904 Barlach taught at Hör School of Ceramics in Westerwald. Barlach’s journey across the Russian steppes with his brother in 1906 and the birth of his illegitimate son became a turning point in his career. Among the peasants of Russia he saw “Christian humility towards all things” and started to read the works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Barlach’s drawings and sculptures of Russian beggar women belong to his most famous works, which interlinked material and spiritual needs of human beings. His characters are solid, reduced into their essential broad geometrical forms, and their eyes are often closed or half-closed. Sometimes the facial expressions are primitive, sometimes grotesque or touchingly comic. Alone, without any reference to surroundings, Barlach’s self-absorbed figures seem to exemplify loneliness and helplessness in front of divine mysteries. Art became for Barlach an expression of a spiritual search for God, inner self, and other human beings. By the 1920s, he was considered one of the leading expressionist sculptors of the country.

Barlach died on October 24, 1938 and was buried near his father in Ratzeburg.

Russian Beggar Woman, 1907

Bronze, 1907 25 x 44 x 19 cm 9 3/4" x 17 1/2" x 7 1/2" (height x length x depth)