Self-portrait with skeleton

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Self-portrait with skeleton (Lovis Corinth)
Self-portrait with skeleton
Lovis Corinth , 1896
Oil on canvas
68 × 88 cm
Municipal gallery in the Lenbachhaus, Munich

The self-portrait with skeleton is a painting by the German painter Lovis Corinth . The picture was painted and finished by the artist in Munich in 1896 ; today it hangs in the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich.

Image description

The painting shows the two protagonists , Corinth and the skeleton, side by side, in the background the panorama of the city of Munich appears, which can be seen through the wide studio window. The picture cuts the body at chest height, and adjusts accordingly represents only the upper body and head. After the works of Charlotte Berend-Corinth shows the image "Corinth front of a large studio window, in a pale blue checked shirt. Perspective on Munich in pink and purple. "

The painter presents himself with little or no idealized. He has a mustache and short dark hair, by a receding hairline also are in a checkered light shirt with a dark tie. The skeleton is hung on a frame with a bracket in the skull and is a little lower than the artist. A studio window in the background illuminates the scene and places the two figures in backlight. It stretches across the entire width of the picture and consists of small fields, of which two rows with four fields each are partially visible. One of these metal-framed windows is open. This pane, which is open to the viewer into the room, is located directly behind Corinth and thus optically moves it forward. The metal frames of the window panes form two crosses that can be seen to the right and left of Corinth. A third window cross is hidden by the skeleton. The window offers a view of a white-gray sky. In the lower half of the lower row of windows, buildings, roofs and church towers indicated in an ocher tone can be seen. Smoking chimneys indicate industry.

The signature Corinth found drawn and at the right top of the screen in fine letters thus very atypical for him actually. In a cartouche he wrote:

Lovis Corinth.
38 years old 1896.

The "J." stands for year and indicates his age, the "a." For anno and denotes the year. This signature is interpreted as a reference to Albrecht Dürer's frontal “self-portrait” (around 1500) as a model.

Origin and interpretation

Lovis Corinth painted the “Self-Portrait with a Skeleton” in response to the “ Self-Portrait with a Fiddling Death ” by the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin, who was well known and appreciated in Munich and throughout Germany at the time . Böcklin depicts the skeleton alive in his picture, a violin is playing and the artist is listening. In this way he wants to draw attention to the fact that life is finite ( Memento mori ), at the same time death serves the artist as a muse . The skeleton and playing the violin are well-known motifs in this context and have been widely used since the Middle Ages. Even Hans Thoma reached in 1875 the subject of the skeleton as a muse in his "Self-Portrait". Here a skull adorned with a laurel wreath looks over the shoulder of the painting artist and above his head, in the branches of a tree, sits the god Cupid .

Lovis Corinth takes up the motif and places it in a completely new context. It represents a skeleton, as it is normally used as a teaching model for anatomical demonstrations in medicine - inanimate and in the form of an object that has been deprived of all threat and symbolism. The skeleton as a commodity is only held upright by hanging it on an iron stand. The relation to reality is reinforced by the real representation of the big city with smoking chimneys that penetrate through the window into the brightly lit room. With the representation of his person with the skeleton, the artist shows the clear and natural limitation of life through death, in which there is no mysticism.

Classification in the work of Corinth

Lovis Corinth: Death and Artists, 1921 (from the etching portfolio " The Dance of Death ")

The self-portrait with skeleton is still one of the best-known of the numerous portraits that the painter made of himself. It was a painting that was created when it was not yet at the height of its popularity, a few years before the important move from Munich to Berlin. In the same year the "View from the Munich-Schwabing Atelier", the "Bacchanale" and the "Girl with a Long Dress." The first one is thematically related through the representation of the view from the studio window, while the other two pictures show no parallels.

Corinth has been painting self-portraits at regular intervals since 1886, although the skeleton does not appear in any of the other portraits. He took up the motif of the hanging skeleton with him in a picture in 1916 in “The Artist and Death”, this time without a studio window and instead with a goat's skull in the form of a trophy hung on the wall in the background. In his later graphics and drawings, which were made after his stroke in 1911 and his loss in the war in 1918, death in the form of a skull is very common. Here, however, he again gives death its threatening symbolism, which he lacks in this painting. Reinforced by his personal setbacks, death in his later works was to re- Allegory , "which was to challenge him until the end of his life." Particularly impressive this is in the folder with six etchings, which appeared under the name of "The Dance of Death" in 1921 to see. In all six images portrayed people are confronted with death in the form of a skull.

Influence on later artists

The "Self-Portrait with Skeleton" was taken up in its pictorial concept in 1984 in a very similar way by the artist Manfred Bluth . In his "Portrait of Johannes Grützke with a female skeleton" he also depicts his artist colleague Johannes Grützke in front of a studio window next to a hanging skeleton. In this painting, however, the positions are reversed and the window does not take up the entire wall. Between the two protagonists there is a pair of binoculars on the windowsill.


The picture "Self-Portrait with Skeleton" had been in the possession of Dr. A. Ulrich, who bought it from 1897 as well as "The Witches" (BC 145) and "The Temptation of Saint Anthony" (BC 149). The work was sold from his possession to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus .


  1. a b c Charlotte Berend-Corinth : Lovis Corinth: The paintings . Revised by Béatrice Hernad. Bruckmann Verlag, Munich 1958, 1992; BC 135, p. 74. ISBN 3-7654-2566-4 .
  2. ^ The Metropolitan Museum of Art: German Masters of the Nineteenth Century: Paintings and Drawings from the Federal Republic of Germany , Harry N. Abrams, New York 1981, ISBN 0-87099-263-5 , p. 60
  3. Peter-Klaus Schuster, Christoph Vitali, Barbara Butts 1996, page 117