Albert Birkle

Date/place of birth

21 April 1900

Day/place of death

29 January 1986 in Salzburg

Albert Birkle - Der Bahnwärter
Albert Birkle - Der Bahnwärter

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Albert Birkle biography

The birth of Albert Birkle fell on the threshold of a new century: he was born on 21 April 1900 the first son of a middle-class family; his grandfather was the well-known court painter Gustav Bregenzer who supported his artistically gifted grandson as much as he could. Despite these promising premises, Albert Birkle had to wrestle with many shadows in his full life.

Albert Birkle – A life between war and art

The young 20th century brought the First World War, and, with the same number of years, Albert Birkle had to serve the last year of the war as a soldier before he could start as a decorative painter in his father’s business. The time between the wars finally allowed Albert Birkle the desired artistic blossoming: between 1918 and 1924 he studied at the University of Arts in Berlin, and after his successful graduation he became a master scholar under the history painter Arthur Kampf at the Prussian Academy of Arts. One year before, in 1923, he had already been accepted into the Berlin Secession. His early work, of considerable size, did not spare any criticism of the prevailing social conditions and was characterised by an idiosyncratic interpretation of New Objectivity, in which his character heads, bordering on caricature, stood out in particular. Privately, Albert Birkle found happiness in his marriage to the applied artist Elisabeth Starosta.

A new home in Austria

The seizure of power by the National Socialists threatened a second war which would cast a shadow over the life and work of Albert Birkle and in order to escape the grip of the new rulers he emigrated to Austria in 1932. However, Austria’s accession to the Third Reich destroyed his hopes of a safe exile. Although the National Socialists found also the work of Birkle degenerate, the protective hand of Hitler’s valued Austrian sculptor Josef Thorak saved him from the threatened prohibition of work. After the collapse of the Third Reich, Adolf Birkle took Austrian citizenship in 1946 and processed his traumatic war experiences in the monumental cycle “De profundis”, the depictions of which however went far beyond the actual events and almost visionarily philosophised about the meaning of suffering.

The dominant themes of religion and social criticism

Alongside his broad social criticism, religion dominated in the work of Albert Birkle. In 1927 the artist rejected the offer of an appointment at the Königsberg Academy and instead dedicated himself completely to church murals. The catholic city of Salzburg offered Birkle many attractive opportunities for artistic endeavors. During this time, he created many glass paintings using the innovative “Dalles technique” from France. His redesign of the stained-glass window of the Graz parish church became a scandal when he placed the dictators Hitler and Mussolini among the tormentors of Jesus. His later oil paintings reflected back on these experiences with a particularly bright colour palette. His stained-glass cycles brought Birkle great fame, a professorship and the prestigious commission for the design of five large glass windows in the Washington National Cathedral.

Albert Birkle died on 29 January 1986 in his new home of Salzburg. Austria’s oldest city preserved the memory of the visual artist, whose work was marked by two world wars and deep religiousness: in 2001, the Salzburg Carolino-Augusteum Museum dedicated an exhibition to the work of Albert Birkle.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Albert Birkle Prices

Albert BirkleDer Bahnwärter€824.000
Albert BirkleUnter den roten Fahnen€8.687
Albert BirkleLandschaft mit Pflüger€8.568

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