Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s “Portrait of Otto Müller”—with its vibrant, modulated color and penetrating psychological force—is emblematic of the artist’s innovative approach to technique and imagery. A pivotal figure of the German Expressionist movement, Kirchner first met Müller, also a painter-printmaker, in 1910. Müller then joined “Die Brücke” (The Bridge), the group Kirchner had helped found in 1905, which was instrumental in promoting Expressionism. The period between 1915 and 1919 marked Kirchner’s most concentrated and productive phase of work with portrait prints, which he made primarily as large-format woodcuts. In this depiction of Müller, Kirchner used a spare, planar composition and broad areas of undifferentiated color to depict his subject’s sharp features. He painted on a single block with a brush and varying colors; thus, each print is unique. The cobalt-blue striated forms that emanate from Müller’s right and from the side of his head in this print are abstract representations of the painted bands that decorated Kirchner’s studio wall, against which Müller posed. These bands, which Kirchner painted himself, exemplify his adoption of motifs and styles from Palauan art of the South Pacific and resonate with Müller’s own fondness for African-inspired furniture and wall paintings. Indeed, Müller’s hieratic, frontal position may suggest his interest in Egyptian art.


  • Title: Portrait of Otto Mueller
  • Creator: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German, 1880–1938)
  • Date Created: 1915
  • Physical Dimensions: 273 x 546 mm (image/block); 302 x 550 mm (sheet)
  • Type: Print
  • External Link: The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Media: Color woodcut with charcoal on cream wove paper
  • Credit Line: The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Dr. Eugene A. Solow in honor of Paulette Solow, Judy Solow Kleckner, Bryan Kleckner and Gabrielle Kleckner, 1988.433
  • Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German, 1880–1938)

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