Childhood and Training (1881-1905)
Heinrich Wilhelm Lehmbruck is born in Meiderich on 4 January. His artistic talent reveals itself very early. His drawing teacher, Gerrit van Driepenbrock, recognises his talent and supports him. He first studies at the School of Applied Arts in Düsseldorf from 1895 to 1899. In 1901, he begins to study sculpture at the Royal Academy in Düsseldorf. Under the guidance of the sculptor Karl Janssen his craftsmanship is schooled, mainly in naturalistic and neo-classical genre sculpture.
At the age of 23, Lehmbruck visits the International Art Exhibition in Düsseldorf which, presenting renowned artists from all over the world, brings current contemporary art to Düsseldorf for the first time. This is where he encounters the works of Auguste Rodin. He makes several study trips which take him, among other places, to Italy.
First Artistic Success (1906-1910)
In May 1906, the year he finishes his studies, Lehmbruck presents his statue Bathing Woman at the German Art Exhibition in Cologne. In 1907, he moves into his first studio in Düsseldorf and joins the Düsseldorf Artists’ Association. In the same year, four of his works are exhibited at the Paris Salon and Lehmbruck travels to Paris for the first time. In the ensuing years he regularly takes part in the Paris exhibition.
He cultivates contacts in the art and collectors’ scene and makes friends with collectors such as Karl Ernst Osthaus and Carl Nolden, who are to become his most important patrons in the following years. In June 1908, Lehmbruck marries Anita Kaufmann.
Breakthrough in Paris (1910-1914)
After successfully taking part in several exhibitions, the Lehmbruck family decide to move to Paris, where Wilhelm Lehmbruck visits Auguste Rodin in the latter’s studio in Meudon. Lehmbruck presents his works at the Salon of the Société nationale des beaux-arts, at the Berlin Secession, the Cologne Sonderbund Exhibition as well as the US Armory Show. During his time in Paris, he creates some of his most important works such as the Standing Female Figure (1910), the Kneeling Woman (1911), the Large Pensive Woman (1913) and the Rising Youth (1913/14). When the First World War breaks out, the family are forced to return to Germany.
War Years in Berlin (1914-1916)
In December Lehmbruck moves into his new studio in Berlin. He doesn’t have to fight at the front but serves for a short time at an auxiliary military hospital in Berlin-Friedenau. His main works, the Fallen Man (1915/16) and the Seated Youth (1916/17) are created at that time.
At the end of 1916, Lehmbruck is able to present his works in a comprehensive solo show at the Kunsthalle Mannheim. After this exhibition, the family decide not to return to Berlin but to move south to Switzerland, in order to wait for the end of the war there.
Zürich and Berlin (1916-1919)
In Zürich, Lehmbruck becomes friends with the writer Fritz von Unruh and the poet Albert Ehrenstein. He meets the young actor Elisabeth Bergner, who becomes his model. Lehmbruck develops strong feelings for her. The extraordinary portrait Praying Girl (1918) is created as an idealised image. At that time, his state of mind begins to deteriorate.
In 1919, shortly after the end of the war, Lehmbruck returns to Berlin for a commission. He studies Rudolf Steiner´s Anthroposophy and considers moving to India. 1919 he signs an appeal by Steiner, which is meant to lay the foundations for a new social order after the catastrophe of the First World War. On 24 January 1919 Lehmbruck is appointed a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, the highest recognition for a German artist. The announcement of this distinction, however, cannot stop him from taking his own life on 25 March 1919 in Berlin. He is only 38 years old.