Ernst Barlach

Date/place of birth

January 2, 1870, Wedel

Day/place of death

October 24, 1938, Rostock

Ernst Barlach - Der singende Mann
Ernst Barlach - Der singende Mann

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Ernst Barlach biography

Ernst Barlach was a draughtsman, sculptor, and writer. Best known today for his sculpture Der Schwebende in Güstrow Cathedral, it is worth taking a look at the rest of the artist’s oeuvre, which has found great resonance amongst critics.

Ernst Barlach – Studies in Hamburg and Dresden; master student of Robert Diez

Ernst Barlach was born in Wedel on 2 January 1870. The eldest of four sons of the country doctor Georg Barlach, he demonstrated a pronounced observational power and an artistic view of his environment from an early age. Still at school, he made friends with the future writer Friedrich Düsel and spent his spare time producing his first drawings. In 1888, Ernst Barlach began his studies at the Decorative Arts School in Hamburg where he learnt commercial drawing before moving to Theodor Richard Thiele’s sculpture class. He took his artistic role models at this time from antiquities, the Renaissance and Romanticism, and in 1891 went to Dresden to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. He was a regular guest at the Dresden Picture Gallery and the sculpture collection of Albertinum, and in 1892 became master student of the sculptor Robert Diez. Following his much-acclaimed graduation work Die Krautpflückerin (The Herb Picker), Barlach moved to Paris and during his two-year stay in the French capital city, worked primarily as a writer.

Troblesome life crisis and radical journey through Russia

At the start of his career as a fine artist, Ernst Barlach had trouble finding his own style. He tried different directions, temporarily directing his gaze towards Art Nouveau and Symbolism, and only gradually felt his way towards his own artistic identity. To earn a living, Peter Behrens helped secure him a teaching post, but to overcome a serious life crisis, Ernst Barlach undertook an eight-week trip to Russia. Alongside his brother Nikolaus, he gathered numerous impressions and came into contact with Russian folk art, which strongly influenced his own work. Freshly inspired and strengthened, he braved an artistic new beginning on his return home. He processed his experiences of his trip to Russia in two terracottas which, sculpted by Richard Mutz, caused a sensation at the 13th exhibition of the Berlin Secession. Six drawings critical of the times, drawing on the artist’s trip to Russia, appeared in the magazine Simplicissimus. 

Between artistic ascent and character defamation campaign

Following his artistic successes, Ernst Barlach was able to commission the architect Adolf Kegbein to build him a studio and house in Güstrow, where he lived with his mother and his son Klaus, whose custody he had won in a two-year trial against his former lover, the seamstress Rosa Schwab. Barlach played an ambivalent role during the Nazi dictatorship: on the one hand, he signed the notorious Aufruf der Kulturschaffenden (call to the cultural workers), formulated by Joseph Geobbels, thereby declaring his support for Adolf Hitler, but on the other, he was soon classified as a degenerate artist by the National Socialist powers, faced a campaign of character defamation, and was eventually banned from exhibiting. Ernst Barlach received prizes and awards for his work, including the Villa Romana Prize in 1909, the Kleist Prize in 1924, various honorary academy and art group memberships, as well as the posthumous honorary citizenship of the city of Güstrow. Much later, in 1996, an asteroid was named after him.

Ernst Barlach died in Rostock in 1938.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Ernst Barlach Prices

Ernst BarlachDer singende Mann€688.000
Ernst BarlachDer Singende Mann€337.500
Ernst BarlachDer Zweifler€272.800
Ernst BarlachDer singende Mann (The singing Man)€156.000
Ernst BarlachDer Singende Mann€124.000
Ernst BarlachDer singende Mann€112.500

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