Ernst Kirchner’s First-Ever Self-Portrait—and the First to Come to Auction in Decades—Could Sell for Nearly $15 Million

The work is thought to have been inspired by Van Gogh's famous self-portrait with a straw hat and pipe.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Self-portrait with a pipe (1907). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

The very first self-portrait by German Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is hitting the auction block at Sotheby’s modern and contemporary art evening sale in London on 29 June. Painted in 1907, at the peak of the artist’s involvement with the avant-garde Die Brücke movement, Self-Portrait with a Pipe carries an estimate of £8 million to £12 million ($9.8 million to $14.7 million).

The self-portrait is characteristic of the Die Brücke style, with its boldly colorful and naively expressive brushstrokes, which broke with the traditional training received by young German art students at the time. Kirchner was a founding member of the movement in 1905, and this work was first owned by his friend and Die Brücke co-founder Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.

It is thought to have been inspired by a visit to an exhibition of works by Van Gogh, held in Dresden in 1905, which included the Post-Impressionist master’s Self-Portrait with Pipe and Straw Hat (1887). The compositional link between the two works is plain to see and, fittingly, the Kirchner self-portrait was last on public display in the 2007 exhibition “Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism”, held at the Neue Galerie in New York and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait With Straw Hat And Pipe (1887). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images.

The painting was last on the market more than 40 years ago, when it was sold at Sotheby’s in 1981. It is the only single-image self-portrait by Kirchner ever to appear at auction—a painting long believed to be a self-portrait that came to auction last November in New York turned out to be a portrait of Swiss Expressionist painter Hermann Scherer—and is a rare opportunity for private collectors. Of the 25 works by Kirchner in which he depicts himself, about two-thirds are held in museum collections.

Kirchner’s auction record was set by one of his celebrated street scenes, Berliner Strassenszene (1913­–14), which made $38.1 million at Christie’s New York in 2006.  

In 1931, the painting was acquired by the prominent German banker and patron Hugo Simon, before entering a US collection in 1958.

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