Icon of Heroic “Degeneracy”: The Journey of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Self-Portrait as a Soldier
Bachelor of Arts
Leonard V. Smith
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self-Portait as a Soldier, Degenerate art, Entartete Kunst, Oberlin College, Allen Memorial Art Museum, WWI, World War I
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a globally renowned German Expressionist, painted one of his most famous works, Self-Portrait as a Soldier, in 1915. Today it hangs in Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum and is greatly sought after around the world for loan exhibitions. Yet the painting did not always have such a great demand; painted during Kirchner's experience as a World War I Soldier and publicly denounced by the Nazis, the painting realized a complicated journey to the United States and its eventual global fame. So how did it arrive at where it is today and why? This paper will examine in-depth the path of this painting and along the way its failures and successes, its popularity and its defamation; it will attempt to unlock the mystery of German Expressionism's relationship to politics and ultimately project a key understanding as to why reception of contemporary German culture in the United States was much better received after World War II than before. It will demonstrate how Self-Portrait as a Soldier's political identity changed with the context of its varying environments. Most importantly it will demonstrate the ability of art to tell history in a way that politics never could.
Mette, Meghan E., "Icon of Heroic “Degeneracy”: The Journey of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Self-Portrait as a Soldier" (2016). Honors Papers. 237.