Ernst Barlach (German, born January 2, 1870–died October 24, 1938) was an Expressionist sculptor, printmaker, and writer. Barlach studied art at the Gewerbeschule in Hamburg, and, later, at the Royal Art School in Dresden and the Académie Rudolph Julien in Paris. Early in his career, Barlach was influenced by Jugendstil, the Art Nouveau style popular in Germany at the time, creating sculpture and Decorative Art objects.
In 1906, he traveled to Russia, where he was deeply influenced by Folk Art, as well as by the hands and faces of the peasants he saw there, leading to the development of his mature style, characterized by bulky, monumental figures in heavy clothing. Often working in wood, Barlach has been labeled a "modern Gothic" artist because of the prevalence of this material during the Gothic era. Even when using more contemporary materials, such as bronze, Barlach emulated the texture of wood in his sculptures, giving his works a brutal, rough-hewn effect.
Barlach was also an accomplished playwright. His most notable dramas include Der tote Tag (The Dead Day) (1912) and Der Findling (The Foundling) (1922), both of which evoke symbolism and realism to explore themes of existence and futility. He often created woodcuts and lithographs to accompany his written works.
Barlach achieved widespread acclaim during the 1920s and early 1930s, when he created the renowned war memorials in Magdeburg and Hamburg, and the religious figures for the Church of St. Katherine in Lübeck.
With the rise of Naziism, however, Barlach faced increasing marginalization, with his works being completely removed from all museums, churches, and public spaces in 1936, and receiving the label "degenerate art."
He died of heart failure in Rostock, Mecklenburg, at the age of 68.
Following World War II, his talent was once again recognized, with his studio being transformed into a museum in Güstrow, Germany. Today, the Ernst Barlach House in Hamburg exhibits a large collection of his sculptures, drawings, and prints.