The Sensual Art of Raphael Kirchner

kirchner-foxIf y’all been reading this blog for a while,

You’ve probably figured out by now–

…. that one of my favorite things in the world is a good pin up.

And if not, well….

One of my favorite things in the world is a good pin up .

This here Muscleheaded Blog,

that you have perhaps,

so fortuitously come upon, has featured many beautiful works–


…. by mainly American bred pin-up masters like:

Gil Elvgren, Rolf Armstrong,
Zoe Mozert, Enoch Bolles, Earl Moran, and Henry Clive, et al.

And a lot of folks kinda figure that pin-ups are a mainly American form of art.

Au contraire, mon frère !!!

Actually, the turn of the 20th century saw the form develop first as part of the Art Nouveau movement in Europe,

and, of course, La Belle Epoque……

Ad for Byrrh Quinquina by Raphael Kirchner, 1906

Ad for Byrrh Quinquina by Raphael Kirchner, 1906

on which, you may find another post in my archives — which was all about the beautiful Absinthe advertising posters of the period.

The sensual Art Nouveau genre was strongly influenced and driven by artists like:

British artist Aubrey Beardsley, Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, Italian artist Achille Mauzan, and French artists Leo Fontan, and Xavier Sager.

salomeAnd, despite the recent resurgence of interest in Mucha’s work, especially his poster art,

… many of the other very important artists and their works of this era are largely forgotten —

— which seems a shame considering the beauty and innovative spirit of the art they created.

Well, the Muscleheaded Blog ain’t just gonna stand around and let that happen, ya hear me?

‘Course, we got only about 300 some readers…

But dammit, we’re gonna do our part to put this art out there where people can see and enjoy them again.


When I think about my favorite European artists who did sensual Art Nouveau pieces…..

( and the whole form had a sensuality about it, no question….. )

usually the first name that comes to my mind is Raphael Kirchner, born in 1876.

Kirchner grew up in Vienna, Austria — at 20, he was painting upper class portraits for good money, and had built a large following—

But Kirchner felt hemmed in and wanted to expand his artistic boundaries….
Vienna was too conservative and stolid for his taste.

…… so in 1900, he packed up and moved to Paris.

In France, Kirchner was immersed and refreshed by the whole Fin de siècle climate of those days–

more especially, the Parisian nightlife,

and the lovely women of the Montmartre.

Consequently, his artwork changed and improved dramatically.
He started painting and drawing the characters he observed in the cafes and bistros,

…… much like Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was known to do in his heyday.

And his subjects, framed by bar and boudoir, were for Kirchner, the final ingredient to developing his own special style —

— which he further innovated while working as an illustrator for the famed French periodical La Vie Parisienne .

He is most well known, however, for his illustrated picture postcards —

geishaMost of the postcards he produced were stunningly beautiful, and tastefully

………and the charm and rarity of the cards also happens to make them extremely collectible, as well.

One of the interesting things about Kirchner’s postcards —

— the original ” French Postcards” as Americans of the time called them…

was indeed the esteem the men serving on the European front during World War I had for them.

There were certainly other artists doing this kind of work during this time,1913

…for instance, Leo Fontan, and Xavier Sager,

but Kirchner’s was, by far, the most popular.

His “Geisha” series, in particular, captured the imagination of the servicemen.

British soldiers used the beautiful and mildly erotic Kirchner cards like currency –

— the more common Tommies called them “Kirsonners”–

muse…. and they were often traded for every day necessities and luxuries in the trenches.

This practice became so ubiquitous, that there was even a poem by Gilbert Frankau…

It was printed in a soldier’s publication, and was entitled “The Nuts of the Old Brigade”.

It read in part:
“O where is Bob of the big moustache?
An alien adjutant shoots     
For the Major-man that I used to know
With his Kirchner ladies all in a row     
And his seventeen pairs of boots.'”

This is an example to show just how pervasive Kirchner’s work had become.

It seems perfectly natural, though….raphael-kirchner-11

His art speaks to a man in such a simple, direct, and appealing way.

Another interesting aspect of Kirchner’s work,

……… is that his later postcard art all featured the same model —

— his lovely wife and muse Nina, who upon Kirchner’s death in 1917, attempted suicide,

opium…. and eventually, she lost her mind and health to drug abuse.

Her influence over Kirchner’s style cannot be underestimated.

She represented to Kirchner the ultimate ideal of femininity and grace, a paradigm of erotic love —

… and the many works in which she is featured shows that quite clearly.

Passion, always a component of Kirchner art, had become very much more evident after their affair began in 1910.
His work was toned down somewhat after he moved to New York in 1914,

….and he concentrated on painting more portraiture and canvases, even doing a few sculptures.

Of course, his beloved Nina was ever present in his work to the end.

Overall, Kirchner was a wonderfully talented artist,

….with a flair for expressing the sensuality of both the era, and the women of the time,

And certainly, one must consider Kirchner an innovator of the modern pin up form as it exists today.



If you like Pin Ups, check out my other posts on these famous Pin Up Artists :

Enoch Bolles
Henry Clive

Wilson Hammell
George Petty
Gil Elvgren
Zoe Mozert
Earl Moran
Joyce Ballantyne
Lloyd Rognan
Raphael Kirchner



20 thoughts on “The Sensual Art of Raphael Kirchner

  1. […] Chris at The Muscleheaded Blog.  Thanks, Chris, for allowing me to use this image! He has a whole post on Raphael Kirchner – check it […]

  2. kirizar says:

    Thank you for showing that there were, in fact, tasteful erotica versus some of the more pornographic works. They are out there, I just prefer to see the idealized woman type of art rather than the gritty, raw reality of women faced with starvation or degredation.

  3. […] Now, if you’ve got nowhere else to go, …..  why not check out my post on the Art of Raphael Kirchner ? […]

  4. […] ” The Sensual Art of Raphael Kirchner ” […]

  5. awesome artciel…Nina was definitely very erotic and I can see why Kirchner was so obsessed with her; also, it was nice to see a husband so obsessed with his wife. I also loved hearing about the origins of the pin-up

  6. Gray Dawster says:

    This post is not just visually pleasing but it has an abundance of interesting facts. Your researching is second to none my friend and thank you for offering this one 🙂 Brilliant…


  7. reocochran says:

    This was a lovely post and I am so fortunate to be able to read and focus on the diverse styles and examples of true artistic ‘pin up’s!’ Thanks and have a wonderful weekend! Robin

  8. I really love his artwork!
    His work is sensual in such a beautiful way!
    THE most wonderful thing about any art…writing, photography, paintings (etc), architecture, furniture making, fashion…etc… it all lives beyond the life of the artist and gives joy to generations after. 🙂
    I can’t imagine Kirchner ever knew his amazing work would be so enjoyed by us today.
    HUGS!!! 🙂

    • I think you made a very interesting point…
      Kirchner was doing work for a Paris magazine, and I would imagine he never thought he’d someday get such international acclaim.
      And you’re so right about art living on. 🙂

  9. Patrice says:

    Ah, the art is exquisite! What a wonderful, exquisite too, expose you’ve written to accompany. Totally enjoyed!!! 😀

  10. Great post! These are all so good. He and his wife knew what sensual really was and expressed it beautifully.

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