Olympics in the Galleries

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Ice Skater (verso), 1929–30, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Ice Skater (verso), 1929–30, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

No, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s ice skater is not executing a complicated triple lutz, soon to be witnessed by billions around the world during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He is permanently suspended in his upside-down state, having been painted on the verso of a canvas 17 years after the main painting on the other side, Four Wooden Sculptures, which depicts small primitive sculptures. Both sides of this expressionist artist’s painting can currently be seen (the skater requiring a bit of head tilting) in the DMA’s Behind the Scenes exhibition in the Conservation Gallery.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Four Wooden Sculptures (recto), 1912, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Four Wooden Sculptures (recto), 1912, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Kirchner’s interest in the movement and agility of the human body began early in his career with depictions of Berlin and Dresden cabarets and circuses. He later found inspiration in the bicyclists who practiced racing at Berlin’s Olympia stadium. The DMA’s skater was painted after the artist moved to the Swiss Alpine mountain town of Frauenkirch, near Davos, where he would spend the last 20 years of his life. The area remains a mecca for cold-weather athletics–Davos is now home to both the Kirchner Museum and the Winter Sports Museum.

In 1930, in his essay “On Life and Work,” Kirchner reflected: “Observation of movement has been for me a particularly fruitful source of creative inspiration. From that observation comes the increased awareness of life which is the source of all artistic works.” For Kirchner, most of his sports experience was only that–observation and then the subsequent depictions thereof. The skater and other works such as Ski-Jumpers (1927) and Ice-Hockey Players (1934) were executed after his physical and mental breakdown. Archery seems to be the one sport that the artist attempted himself. In 1933, he wrote to a friend, “My wife is quite a good shot, too. It is an educational sport which makes people take up beautiful attitudes.”

And here’s a view of Kirchner’s Ice Skater that doesn’t require turning the computer upside down.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Ice Skater (verso), 1929–30, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Ice Skater (verso), 1929–30

Read more about the appearance of athletic activity in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s work here.

Reagan Duplisea is the associate registrar, exhibitions at the DMA


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