A sculptor, writer and commercial artist, Barlach was born in 1870. He studied at the vocational school in Hamburg from 1888-1891 and at the Academy of Arts in Dresden from 1891- 1895. In 1895, he would travel to Paris to attend the Académie Julian and in the following years, he worked predominately as a sculptor in Altona and Hamburg.
In 1907, Barlach became a member of the Citizens of Berlin Secession and in 1919 he gained membership to the Prussian Academy of Arts. He received the award of the Kleistpreises in 1924 for his dramatic work and in 1925 was honored as a member of the Academy of the Forming Arts of Münich.
During the 1930s much of the art he made and several of the plays Barlach wrote were supressed by the Germans, labeled "degenerate" art.