Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Barlach deeply admired the work of Käthe Kollwitz, and like her relief nearby, this expressionist bronze, first sculpted in 1914, is a response to the Great War. Like many of his artist contemporaries, Barlach was a hopeful nationalist at the outset of the conflict. As the fighting dragged on and disillusionment increased, however, Barlach envisioned war less as a noble sword-bearer and more as, in his words, “a hammer-wielding butcher.”

Although he worked in many different materials, including ceramic, terracotta, and bronze, Barlach’s greatest affinity was for wood. He made the first version of this work in clay and plaster in 1914, calling it his “raging Barbarian,” but carved a larger one in wood eight years later. In the postwar iteration, he changed the face slightly, subduing it to an almost mournful mask. It was this version from which an edition of ten numbered bronzes were produced, eight of which were completed before 1934.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Ernst Barlach, German (Wedel, Germany 1870 - 1938 Rostock, Germany)
The Avenger
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Der Rächer
Work Type
1914 (cast before 1934)
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
44.5 x 22.9 x 61 cm (17 1/2 x 9 x 24 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: on base: E Barlach
  • inscription: on base at l.r., top, incised: 4/10 [edition no.]
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Standard Reference Number
Schult 167
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Norbert Schimmel
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Publication History

Friedrich Schult, ed., Ernst Barlach. Das plastische Werk, Dr. Ernst Hauswedell & Co. (Hamburg, Germany, 1960), no. 167

Peter Nisbet and Emilie Norris, Busch-Reisinger Museum: History and Holdings, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1991), p. 73, ill.

Peter Nisbet and Joseph Koerner, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. Peter Nisbet, Harvard University Art Museums and Scala Publishers Ltd. (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2007), p. 83

Exhibition History

Works from the 20th Century Collection of the Busch-Reisinger, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 06/15/1980 - 09/01/1980; Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 09/23/1980 - 10/24/1980

Deutsche Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts aus dem Busch-Reisinger Museum, Stadtische Galerie im Stadelschen Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, 10/23/1982 - 01/16/1983; Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin 30, 02/10/1983 - 04/17/1983; Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, 05/08/1983 - 06/26/1983

German Sculpture, 1500 - 1960: A New Installation, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 09/05/1984 - 12/31/1984

German Sculpture from the Permanent Collection, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 01/21/1986 - 03/10/1986

32Q: 1510 German Expressionist Sculpture, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 06/06/2022

Private Practice, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/27/2015 - 01/12/2016

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

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