This double-sided work is a marvellous example of two different stages of Kirchner's œuvre. Painted in 1912, Vier Holzplastiken represents the height of his involvement with Die Brücke and depicts four of the artist's own sculptures from 1910-11 placed on the plinth of a wooden mirror, probably in his studio. The reclining blue sculpture in the foreground of the present composition, titled Kleine Liegende and the dancing nude with raised arms, the middle one of the three standing figures, Tanzende Eva, have both been lost or destroyed since. They are now only known through the present painting, and a photograph of the artist's studio (fig. 3). The other two figures have been identified as Kleiner Adam (fig. 1) to the left and Stehendes Mädchen, Karyatide (fig. 2) to the right of the composition. Vier Holzplastiken is a magnificent example of Kirchner's style in the last year of the Brücke, striving for the union of man with nature and the 'primitive' lifestyle, while simultaneously bringing to splendid fruition that quality of sculptural sensuousness.
Describing Kirchner's Berlin studio, Jill Lloyd noted: 'By covering his dingy studio with exotic decorations, piercing its confines with a mirror or doorway, or pinning a freshly painted canvas to its grey walls, Kirchner did more than imaginatively expand the physical limits of the place. As time progressed, the works of art which reappear in his studio compositions as pictures within pictures enabled Kirchner to transcend the mundane reality of the room to reveal a symbolic or metaphysical realm where the relationship between art and life could be called into question' (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: The Dresden and Berlin Years (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2003, p. 15). In Vier Holzplastiken the artist effectively uses a slight distortion of perspective whereby he transcends our laws of perception and moves towards a more symbolic concept of space.
Since the early Die Brücke years of 1905 in Dresden, Kirchner was fascinated with the subject of the human body. Like Emil Nolde and other group members, he was interested in the simple, expressive rendering of shapes and forms of African sculptures from New Guinea which he had seen in the Dresden Ethnographic Museum. Exposed to academic instructions, it was nevertheless through long self-training that the artist gradually learned that exact representation could not be achieved through objective faithfulness to nature. As the artist himself wrote: 'Through the speed of work (moving, walking, not holding still until one was finished), abbreviations took place in sketches, paintings and sculptures. I was struck with astonishment: there was after all a form which could represent, say, a man or a movement exactly and for all that, depart from the objective form in nature. Was it perhaps possible in this manner to produce an art, understandable to all (though not their ideal in photographic faithfulness to nature) an art in a language of symbolic form' (quoted in D. Gordon, op. cit., p. 19).
Schlittschuhläufer of 1929-30 belongs to a group of Kirchner's works inspired by the world of sport. These subjects enabled the artist to explore the pictorial rendering of movement so masterfully depicted in the figure of the ice skater in the present work. Not only is the composition organized in undulating curvilinear rhythms, but the grey triangular area below the skating figure is suggestive of a swirling action on the white ice background (D. Gordon, op. cit., pp. 139-40).
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