Umbra vitae (Shadow of Life)

Various artists/makers

Not on view

Umbra Vitae is Kirchner’s masterpiece in book art. The artist was obsessed by Heym’s haunting poems, which explore such themes as alienation, death, estrangement, loneliness, and war. Kirchner selected the poems included here, created corresponding images, and designed the book. In 1915 he had enlisted "involuntarily voluntarily" in the German army; he trained to serve as a driver and, although he never saw combat, was haunted by the experience. After suffering a breakdown, he was hospitalized and discharged. Kirchner’s subsequent works extend his earlier themes of alienation but also reflect the trauma of the war. After his hospitalization, he retreated to a small Swiss village and made this book, whose illustrations were inspired by the rural traditions and crafts of the town’s inhabitants.

Umbra vitae (Shadow of Life), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German, Aschaffenburg 1880–1938 Frauenkirch), Book with woodcut illustrations

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