Executed in Dresden in 1908, Sitzendes Mädchen mit Hut is a rare and important drawing, marking a stylistic shift in Kirchner's work, as he embraced an increasingly Expressionist, avant-garde manner. Donald E. Gordon argued that the 'most important factor in Kirchner's artistic maturation during the early Brücke years was, in his own view, a slow and arduous progress in draftsmanship. Exposed to academic drawing instruction [...], it was nevertheless through long self-training in Dresden that he gradually learned that exact representation could not be achieved through objective faithfulness to nature' (D. E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, 1968, p. 19). 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 ibid., p. 19).
As was often his practice, Kirchner himself backdated this drawing to 1904. It was, however, executed in 1908, according to the Kirchner Archives, and stylistically belongs to this period, characterised by a strong, Fauve-like use of colour, a flattening of the picture plane and a distortion of perspective, all elements that reflect his interest in moving away from literal representation of reality towards a more avant-garde pictorial concept. This stylistic shift was certainly inspired by his first-hand experience of Van Gogh's art, exhibited in Dresden in 1905. Also during the formative years of Die Brücke, Kirchner and his fellow artists had the opportunity to see works by Gauguin, Munch and the Fauve painters. Of particular influence were the brightly coloured canvases by Matisse (fig. 4), whose vivid palette and disregard for naturalistic representation had a lasting effect not only on Kirchner, but also on other avant-garde artists working in Germany at this time. Like Emil Nolde and other group members, he was also interested in the simple, expressive style of sculptures from New Guinea which he had seen in the Dresden Ethnographic Museum.
Since the early Die Brücke years, Kirchner was fascinated with the subject of the human figure. As was the case with most of the female figures that appear in Kirchner's works of this period, the model in the present work is most likely his companion, Doris 'Dodo' Grosse, a Dresden milliner who was recognisable by the dark coiffure and hats that she often wore (figs. 1, 3 & 5). The dynamic of the present composition is derived from the contrast between the areas of solid black charcoal and the free-flowing, spontaneous lines of colour chalks. The large figure of the woman, occupying the entire sheet, attests to the confidence and technical mastery Kirchner had achieved by this time.
Another characteristic of Kirchner's Dresden years was a tendency to depict a picture within a picture. In the present composition, a drawing of a nude occupies the upper left corner, which helps identify the setting as the artist's studio. During this time, Kirchner transformed his studio into a bohemian space populated with exotic objects as well as his own paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs. 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).
Fig. 1, Doris (Dodo) Grosse and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, circa 1910, photograph, Kirchner Museum, Davos
Fig. 2, verso of the present work: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Two Bathers in a Tub, 1914, charcoal on paper
Fig. 3, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Sitzende junge Frau mit Hut und Zigarette, 1909, colour chalks and ink on paper, Sprengel Museum, Hanover
Fig. 4, Henri Matisse, La Femme au chapeau, 1905, oil on canvas, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
Fig. 5, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Dodo mit grossem Federhut, 1911, oil on canvas, Milwaukee Art Center, Milwaukee
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