Collection Spotlight: Death and the Artist (Tod und Künstler), Lovis Corinth

Title: Death and the Artist (Tod und Künstler), from the series Dance of Death (Totentanz)
Artist: Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)
Nationality: German
Date: 1921, published 1922
Medium: Etching, soft-ground etching and drypoint
Credit: Gift of James and Pamela Elesh, 1999.21.13

Lovis Corinth was one of the best-known artists working in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany. Born in Tapiau and educated in Königsberg, Munich, and Paris, Corinth exhibited award-winning paintings in London and at the Paris Salon. He was also an influential member of the Berlin Secession, a group formed to escape the creative and promotional limitations of the existing artists’ association.

Death and the Artist shows Corinth working intensely under the watchful eye of death, which rests a skeletal hand on his sleeve. The print clearly renders two subjects Corinth constantly grappled with throughout his nearly fifty-year career: mortality and his self-image as an artist. In 1911, Corinth was just hitting his professional stride when he suffered a debilitating stroke. He recovered enough to continue his career, but his later work shows a painful awareness and dread of old age, decrepitude, and death. This print is part of Corinth’s Dance of Death series, or his variation on the medieval theme of the danse macabre. (In the danse macabre, death comes to various types of people, sending the message that all are equal in death’s eyes.)

Corinth’s choice to represent himself as the archetypal artist in this series shows how central his profession was to his identity, although self-portraiture was not unusual for Corinth. He made countless painted and printed self-portraits over the course of his career, and in 1900, he decided he would, at minimum, make one every year on his birthday. Making self-portraits was an important self-reflective exercise for Corinth, and an avenue through which he could explore his intense inner suffering. However, in the clear majority of his self-portraits, including Death and the Artist, he depicted himself creating art in spite of this suffering. With this act of creation, Corinth stands defiant even in the face of death, asserting that the artist’s memory will live on in his work.

This work is on display in the Eloise W. Martin Study Center Gallery from April 12 – June 18, 2017 as part of “The Block Collects: Lovis Corinth,” which showcases self-portrait prints by Corinth in the museum’s collection.

–Linnea Hodge (WCAS 2017), Curatorial Assistant and curator of “The Block Collects: Lovis Corinth.” 

Graduating Art History student Linnea Hodge overseeing installation of  Lovis Corinth works at the Block.

Block Collection Spotlight invites a closer look at objects in the Block Museum permanent collection from students, staff, faculty, and museum audiences.

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