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A painting in orange, red, blue and black.

The figure of the man dominates the foreground. The figure is dressed in dark orange with black lapels and shirt front, his skin tone is green, black shadows highlight beneath the eyes and right side of the face. The right arm is bent slightly, the left arm is raised but obscured by a green shape of small lines. A line of bell-shaped dark blue objects fill the top right side. Behind the figure to the left is a black cat sits on a shelf in front of a blue framed painting. The walls are red which fades to orange pink.

Gallery Text

In this, one of his many self-portraits, Kirchner, with his beloved cat Boby, eyes the viewer warily. An avid commentator on his own work after World War I — in diaries, correspondence, and even publicly under a pseudonym — Kirchner contributed to the legend of his wartime experience as a soldier. He had suffered a breakdown during the war, and is now known to have partially feigned illness to avoid returning to the front. To recuperate, he eventually left Germany permanently for rural Frauenkirch, near Davos, Switzerland, in 1917. Despite his self-imposed isolation in the mountains, Kirchner kept abreast of developments in Germany, debating details of the history of Brücke and consistently emphasizing his own artistic leadership and autonomy. Thickly painted on a red-and-white checkered cloth — a rare example of a work by Kirchner on an unconventional support — Self-Portrait with Cat retains the more vigorous paint application of the artist’s prewar years, a style he soon abandoned for large, flat planes of color.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, German (Aschaffenburg am Main, Germany 1880 - 1938 Davos, Switzerland)
Self-Portrait with Cat
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Selbstporträt mit Katze
Work Type
Persistent Link


Level 1, Room 1500, Modern and Contemporary Art, Art in Germany Between the Wars
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on commercially woven cotton fabric
120.6 x 80 cm (47 1/2 x 31 1/2 in.)
framed: 140.5 x 101 x 9 cm (55 5/16 x 39 3/4 x 3 9/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: in oil at l.l.: E L Kirchner


Recorded Ownership History
Folkwang Museum, Essen, by 1929, removed from the collection by the National Socialist (Nazi) authorities, 1937 (EK 3689), sold; [Galerie Ferdinand Möller, Berlin], sold; to Kurt Feldhäusser, Berlin,by inheritance; Marie Feldhäusser, Brooklyn (1945-c. 1949) sold; [E. Weyhe Gallery, New York], sold; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, February 1950.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Museum purchase
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Publication History

  • Perry T. Rathbone, European Masters of Our Time, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1957), p. 19, fig. 78, ill. (b/w)
  • Edward B. Henning, Fifty Years of Modern Art 1916-1966, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH, 1966), unpaginated, cat. 11, ill. (b/w)
  • Charles Werner Haxthausen, "The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard: the Germanic Tradition", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 403-413, p. 410
  • Expressionism: A German Intuition 1905-1920, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (New York, 1980), p. 140, cat. 143, ill. (b/w)
  • Charles Werner Haxthausen, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, Abbeville Press (New York, NY, 1980), pp. 11, 31, repr. p. 31
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 375, p. 314, repr.
  • Peter Nisbet and Emilie Norris, Busch-Reisinger Museum: History and Holdings, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1991), p. 62, ill.
  • Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997
  • Klee, Winter, Kirchner 1927-1934, exh. cat., Cantz'sche Druckerei (Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 2001), p. 93, fig. no. 6
  • Bernhard Mendes Bürgi, ed., Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Mountain Life: The Early Years in Davos 1917-1926, exh. cat., Hatje Cantz Verlag (Ostfildern-Ruit, 2003), cat. no. 26, color ill.
  • Jill Lloyd, ed., Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1880-1938, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art (Washington, 2003), cat. no. 179
  • 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. 170
  • "Das schoenste Museum der Welt" Museum Folkwang bis 1933, exh. cat., Steidl and Edition Folkwang (Essen, 2010), pp. 214-216
  • Ich bin den friedlichen Burgern zu modern: Aus Eberhard Grisebachs Briefwechsel mit seinen Malerfreunden, Verlag Scheidegger & Spiess (Zurich, 2010), p. 204, p. 240, fig. 29, ill.
  • Annick Haldemann, Wolfgang Henze, and Martina Nommsen, ed., Rethinking Kirchner, Hirmer (Munich, 2018), p. 15, fig. 6, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

  • European Masters of Our Time, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 10/10/1957 - 11/17/1957
  • Fifty Years of Modern Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 06/06/1966 - 07/31/1966
  • Works from the 20th Century Collection of the Busch-Reisinger, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, New York, 09/23/1980 - 10/24/1980
  • Expressionism: A German Intuition, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 11/14/1980 - 01/18/1981; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 02/19/1981 - 04/26/1981
  • 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
  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 03/02/2003 - 06/01/2003
  • 32Q: 1500 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Expressionism-Interwar), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Verification Level

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