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Year 8 - Expressionism: Karl Schmitt Rottluff (1884-1976)

Last updated October 2018.

Biography - Karl Schmitt Rottluff

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was one of the founding members of the Die Brücke organized in a former butchershop in Dresden in 1905. It was he who named the group after a quote by Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end..."

Service in war and teaching

Schmidt-Rottluff volunteered for service in WWI at a staff headquarters on the Eastern front. During the war he sculpted in wood. He was apolitical and often depicted religious motifs, highly unusual among Brücke artists. His religious woodcuts of 1918 reveal the religious consciousness awakened by the horrors of WWI. Like Pechstein, he taught at the Academy of Fine Art in Berlin after 1945. In 1967, he founded the Brücke museum in Berlin. 

Webpage on Karl Schmitt Rottluff

Early life

Karl Schmidt was born in Rottluff near Chemnitz in 1884 and met Erich Heckel at grammar school in Chemnitz in 1902.

Karl Schmidt began studying architecture at the polytechnical university of Dresden in 1905. Through Heckel he got to know Fritz Bleyl and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. In the same year they founded the artists’s association "Brücke".

Karl Schmidt added to his surname the name of the place where he was born to call himself Schmidt-Rottluff from then on

MoMA collection

From 1905 to 1911, when Die Brücke was based in Dresden, Schmidt-Rottluff’s sources and development were very similar to those of the group’s other members: their influences included Art Nouveau, Neo-Impressionism and the paintings of Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse.

Portrait of Emy

The hands are way too big and she's green. What does this mean to you? I think she looks elated. Also, the green skin is alluding to nature. And, not only that, she could represent a person of any race. Since, nobody is really green - she could be anybody.

Look at Portrait of Emy by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Here we can see typical aspects of Expressionism. The colors are heightened. In the skin tone, they are unnatural. The forms are exaggerated. Read what it says under the image. This is a portrait of his bride. Obviously, he loves her. He is not trying to make her ugly. Read from the below link...

His work

Schmidt-Rottluff was close friend of Erich Heckel who he met in highschool in 1901. Both studied architecture at the Technical Academy in Dresden but left their studies after founding Die Brucke. Many consider Schmidt-Rottluff to be the most independent of Die Brucke. He was inspired by the expressive power of the art he saw at the Ethnographic Museum in Dresden.


In the Fall of 1911, Die Brucke moved to Berlin where they met most of the painters of the avant-garde but in 1913, the group disbanded. In 1912, Schmidt-Rottluff had his first solo exhibition in Hamburg.


Schmidt-Rottluff excelled in the long German tradition of the woodcut. Its harsh contrasts of black and white suited his uncompromising and austere personality. He made 446 woodcuts, 121 lithographs and 96 intaglios. Almost all were executed between 1905-27 when he virtually abandoned all graphic work. From 1906-12, Schmidt-Rottluff printed his own prints in small editions. After this time, he hired professionals and made editions of 25 to 30. Of particular note are those woodcuts produced in the year 1914