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Barlach, Ernst
born:  187o Wedel, Holstein, Germany died: 1938 Rostock, Germany

During his studies at the Dresden Art Academy (1891-1895, with Robert Diez), Barlach's early work in sculpture still had strongly naturalistic traits. This changed with periods spent in Paris (1885-1896) and Berlin (1899-1901), centers of Art Nouveau that left their mark on Barlach's style as the new century began. In 1901 he started to work in ceramics, producing a series of sculptures, and in 1904-1905, he taught the technique at a school specializing in ceramics, the lrJesterwälder Keramikfachschule, Höhr. The year 1906 saw Barlach in Russia, a journey that would prove crucial to his development. As he wrote in his autobiography, Ein selbst taähltes Leben, "In Russia I found this amazing unity of body and soul, this symbolic... form - mere form? No, it was an incredible insight, which said: You can dare to do anything that is in you, without holding back-the most public things and the most intimate, gestures of piety and gestures ofwrath, because for everything... there is an expression, since in Russia, one or both have evidently come to realization." The profound emotional expressiveness of Eastern European culture, and the mythology of the Nordic peoples, left a deeper impression on Barlach than the art of the Mediterranean world. With the advent of National Socialism, Barlach's public monuments in Lübeck, Güstrow, Kiel, and other cities became a target of attack. Hewas declared a "degenerate artist" and forbidden to exhibit. After the war, Barlach's work took on a popularity he himself would never have expected. The Barlach Society was established, and three memorials to him were erected. Yet he was always chary of the cliches that attached to his work. "They're trying to put me in a rubric in terms of creed," Barlach wrote as early as 1932. "They say I'm a seeker of God. But what does that mean, a seeker of God? I would call it downright arrogance if someone were to refer to them- selves as such. They stick the labels 'cultic' and `mystical' on my works, and worry their heads about what riddles I depict and how clever I am in making them difficult to solve. And yet the only thing I desire is to be an artist, pure and simple." Barlach expressed the mental states of his figures by means of starkly simplified, almost rustic forms, sometimes heightened to the point of expressionist distortion. The pose of Singing Man (ig28), seated with outspread legs, leaning back and grasping one knee with his arms for support, exudes the same sense of concentration and peace of mind as the facial expression. The preliminary drawing of igiz emphasizes the mood of complete relaxation; the head itself probably goes back to realistic studies Barlach made while in Russia. The realistic, human qualities of Singing Man did not escape an acute observer like Bertolt Brecht: "He is singing alone, but evidently has listeners. Barlach's humor demands that he be a trifle vain, but no more so than is compatible with the performing arts." In contrast, the tapered, advancing forms in the figure of The Avenger (ig~4) evoke the terrible dynamics of war. The piece is one of three Barlach collectively titled Berserkers. In a charcoal drawing, published in a (ithograph version under the title The Holy War in Cassirer's periodica) Kriegszeit, the figure is associated with the idealism and optimism with which many Germans, including Barlach, greeted the outbreak of what they considered a just war. While the position of the arms, indeed the entire pose, recall the earlier Ecstatic Man, the radia) configuration of the cloak and the soaring torso anticipate Barlach's Angel in Güstrow, a bronze replica of which hangs in the Antoniter-Kirche, Cologne. The Refugee (i9zo) and Hovering God the Father (igzz), a sculpture in stoneware, might also be considered to reflect preliminary ideas for Hovering Angel. Aesthetically, The Avenger shows an approximation to Cubist facetting of form, but its style bears an even closer affinity to the Futurist emphasis on kinetic movement. In diametrica) opposition to the extreme and agitated pose of The Avenger, the figure of Crouching Old Woman has been reduced to terms of closed contour and static volume. The woman seems immobilized by the heavy coat, against which her emaciated hands and feet, and care-worn features, seem even more moving by contrast. What one commentator called her "Norn-like" pose already appeared in an early drawing, Three Witches, just as the self contained block of the volume points back to stylistic elements of Barlach's work around 1910.
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