His father was a baker. He enlisted at the beginning of the war, but his poor health often exempted him from combat duty. His studies were mostly at the Kunstgewerbeschule (Arts and Crafts school) in Berlin. He opened his own studio in 1917.
In 1920, he married the Russian pianist, Sonia Fridman and became associated with Die Brücke, a group of Expressionist artists.
Despite his weak health, he travelled extensively, visiting France, Italy and Spain. He spent a great deal of time at the spa in Hiddensee and was hospitalized on several occasions, dying on 9 February 1929 of intestinal tuberculosis. His grave monument was designed by his friend, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.