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Live-in studio of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1946–1976)

Living and Working

“There is hardly any light here as the windows are still boarded up. Glass is nearly impossible to come by.”

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff to the art historian Rosa Schapire, 11 Dezember 1946

In October 1946, the Berlin evening newspaper Nachtexpress ran the headline “Schmidt-Rottluff comes to Berlin,” announcing that the artist would soon be teaching at the University of Arts. Before this could happen, however, Karl and Emy Schmidt-Rottluff had to move. At the time, they were still living in the artist’s childhood home in Chemnitz-Rottluff, where they had sought refuge after their Berlin flat had been completely destroyed in a 1943 bombing raid. In November 1943, with the help of their artist friend Max Kaus, the couple secured three rooms in a spacious five-room flat in Zehlendorf. The painter Erich Heckel had previously been offered these rooms for subletting at a rate of 160 to 170 marks, but the former Brücke colleague had decided to continue living at Lake Constance instead. And so in the winter of 1946, Karl and Emy Schmidt-Rottluff moved into the unfurnished rooms at Schützallee 136.

Returning to the metropolis was not easy. “Berlin only consists […] of the outskirts now,” the artist wrote to his art historian friend Rosa Schapire. Inclement weather made matters worse. In another letter from mid-December 1946, he describes the temperature in Berlin dropping to minus 13 degrees Celsius – weather for which their building on Schützallee was ill-prepared. Although they had a coal stove, some of the windows were damaged and had been sealed with wooden boards. As a result, the Schmidt-Rottluffs had to endure both the cold and the darkness. When they were still unable to obtain glass for the windows the following spring, the couple resorted to converting Emy Schmidt-Rottluff’s exposed glass negatives into makeshift windows, allowing at least some light into the rooms. As the years went by, their living conditions gradually improved. They acquired new windows and eventually the other two rooms in the flat.

Schmidt-Rottluff lived on Schützallee for 30 years, and during that time he often incorporated both the interior of the flat and its immediate surroundings into his work. His interior depictions show not only furnishings, but also focus on various objects he collected. Some of these, including a buffalo head dance mask from the grasslands of Cameroon and an Egyptian funeral mask, came from colonial contexts. Stripped of their original provenance and purpose, the artist arranged and depicted them solely on the basis of formal aesthetic considerations.*

The quiet, green neighbourhood in south-west Berlin – visible from the balcony or the windows of the residence – was a rich source of inspiration for Schmidt-Rottluff, who created numerous paintings and drawings of the scenery. Yet there’s little to suggest city life; the only traces of urbanity are an occasional advertising pillar or a passing car.

Antonia Moldenhauer and Isabel Fischer


* Since 2021, the Brücke-Museum has been engaged in the critical reappraisal of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff’s collection of objects from colonial contexts, which are owned by the Karl and Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Foundation at the Brücke-Museum. You can find more information here.

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