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November 22, 2019 2 min read

Christian Rohlfs

Born on November 22, 1849 (Other sources December 22, 1849), Christian Rohlfs was a German painter and printmaker. His early works spanned across Impressionism, Naturalism and Post-Impressionism. He is known as a major proponent of German Expressionism.  Rohlfs' paintings covered wide variety of subjects including portraits, landscapes and street scenes. It was his encounter with works of Vincent Van Gogh, that profoundly influenced his style for the rest of his life as a painter. His paintings today adorn museums across the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Spain, Art Institute, Chicago and the Folkwang Museum in Germany. During his lifetime, he enjoyed fame and acclaim at one time and faced criticism and despair at another.

Early Life

At an early age, he suffered from an infection that rendered him bed-ridden. It was this period in his bed that molded his career and life. During the two years in bed from 1864-66, he was nursed by Stolle, a doctor, who encouraged the budding talent of the child as a painter. Christian Rohlfs created his first painting during this time.

In 1870, with the recommendation of Theodor Storm, he went to Berlin to study painting at the Großherzogliche Kunstakademie, Weimar. Meanwhile, his condition deteriorated and resulted in the amputation of one of his legs in 1874.  

He found an admirer of his works in Grand Duke of Saxonia - Weimer, Großherzog von Sachsen - Weimar, who kept supporting him through many years.

From 1888 onwards, a distinctive style can be recognized parallel to the French Impressionism and the school of Barbizon. Henry van de Velde acquainted Rohlfs with Karl Ernst Osthaus, the founder of the Folkwang Museum. In 1901, on the request of Osthaus, Rolhfs started running the Folkwang Museum. However, the endeavor was not successful. His encounter with Emil Norde, Edvard Munch and paintings of Vincent van Gogh inspired Christian Rohlfs towards more expressionist style. Rohlfs eventually adopted this style for the rest of his life.

Later life

In 1908, when he was 60 years old, Rohlfs was inspired by an exhibition of works of the expressionist group, the Die Bruke and created his first set of 185 prints, most of which were linocuts or woodcuts. He was bestowed with several honors that stands testimony for approval of his works. In 1929, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, Christian Rohlfs Museum was established at Hagen.

In 1937, as the Nazis gained power, Rohlfs was removed from Prussian Academy of Arts, the Preußische Kunstakademie der Künste and 412 of his paintings were proclaimed to be ‘’degenerate’’ and hence were removed from various German Museums.

Christian Rohlfs died on January 8, 1938 in Hagen, Westfalia and went down in history as the most prominent exponent of German Expressionism.

Holstein Farm Christian Rohlfs - 1900

Holstein Farm by Christian Rohlfs (1900) 

Half Timbered Houses Christian Rohlfs (1905)
Half Timbered Houses by Christian Rohlfs (1905)

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