London, Fischer Fine Art, A Journey Into the Universe of Art, 1972, no. 28, illustrated in the catalogue
Andrew Robison, "Kirchner Collector Kurt Feldhäusser" in Festschrift für Eberhard W. Kornfeld zum 80. Gerburstag, Bern, 2003, illustrated p. 254
Hans Delfs, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: der gesamte Briefwechsel: "Die absolute Wahrheit, so wie ich sie fühle", Zurich, 2010, nos. 1245 & 2404
Inge Herold, Ulrike Lorenz & Thorsten Sadowsky, eds., Der doppelte Kirchner: die zwei Seiten der Leinwand, Cologne, 2015, illustration of both sides in color p. 153
The present work is an extraordinarily vibrant and enigmatic double-sided canvas from the height of Kirchner’s association with Die Brücke. Exhibiting brilliant colors applied in thick brushstrokes, these images represent Kirchner’s explorations of color and form and exemplify his central stylistic contributions to the German avant-garde.
The founding members of Die Brücke, Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel, were all students of architecture, and their willfully primitive painting style was entirely self-taught. In the program of Die Brücke written in 1906, Kirchner proclaimed: “With faith in progress and in a new generation of creators and spectators we call together all youth…. As youth, we carry the future and want to create for ourselves freedom of life and of movement against the long established older forces. Everyone who reproduces that which drives him to creation with directness and authenticity belongs to us” (quoted in C. Harrison & P. Wood, eds., Art in Theory, 1900-1990, Oxford & Cambridge, 1993, pp. 67-68). What Kirchner and his colleagues Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff were promoting was a freedom of expression and a rejection of the traditions of painting that they had encountered as art students in Dresden in the early 1900s. Although the style of their art was rooted in German folk tradition and influenced by the perspectival advancements of French Post-Impressionist painting, the members of Die Brücke invested their art with a freshness and naivety that expressed the self-confidence of youth. Theirs was the first distinctly German artistic movement of the twentieth century, and their bold aesthetic established Kirchner and his colleagues as an important force among the European avant-garde.
The year 1908 precipitated a number of paintings, including the present canvas and those by Kirchner's Brücke colleagues, which gloried in a similarly debauched coloration and subject matter. As part of his artistic practice, Kirchner would capture the nude female figure in a variety of natural attitudes, shunning the traditional academic style of formulaic, arranged tableaus. Whether set in the studio or in nature, the immediacy and emotional potency of Kirchner’s nudes has a strikingly modern quality. “In the case of the figural depictions,” Nerina Santorious explains, “the creation of an inner image of the artistic subject presupposed working with a scope of action and conception of corporeality that far exceeded that of the models traditionally posing in the academy….. In the merging of their working and living spheres, the artists went a step farther: as had already been the case with Auguste Rodin, the painters’ girlfriends, lovers and partners who served them as models moved freely around the studio, which doubled as a living room. It is conspicuous that the depictions by Kirchner classifiable under the heading ‘nude in studio’ renounce traditional symbols of artistic work (brush, palette), instead showing curtains and homemade furniture that serve to denote the artist’s alternative lifestyle. The conscious linking of everyday life and creative activity was a means of keeping the living, naked body—which the painter aimed to capture in its natural, elementary movements—from freezing into a pose by placement in a studio” (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 2010, p. 72).
During this crucial period in the artist’s career he spent the summers indulging in Freikörperkultur with his fellow painters Pechstein, Schmidt-Rottluff and Heckel as well as the female companions who modeled for them. The background of Weiblicher Akt gives an impression of the colorful decorations and patterns inspired by the studio surroundings. The confident and discernible brushwork, bright colors and exaggerated forms that characterize the Die Brücke group’s approach to art, are all visible in Weiblicher Akt (Female Nude).
Blaue Dame im Tiergarten (Lady in Blue in the Park)
By the time Kirchner painted Blaue Dame im Tiergarten (Lady in Blue in the Park), his artistic gleanings had become more international in scope. In 1909 he saw an exhibition of Matisse’s Fauvist compositions at the Paul Cassirer Gallery in Berlin. He was so impressed with the wild coloration of these pictures that he tried to recruit Matisse to join Die Brücke. Nothing ever came of this offer, but the effect that Matisse’s influence had on Kirchner and his cohorts was profound. Paintings created by Kirchner, Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff over the following years demonstrate an exuberant application of paint and their preference for unmitigated pigments and broad, sweeping brushstrokes is clearly indebted to Matisse. The flatness of the composition and the use of bold black outlines defining the bodies and the trees in the present work also reflect the influence of prints, particularly woodcuts, on Kirchner’s painting.
The subject of the figure in the Berlin street is arguably the most celebrated theme in Kirchner’s work. Kirchner first visited Berlin in 1910 and moved there from Dresden in 1911. Kirchner was one of the first of Die Brücke's members to make the important move from provincial Dresden to the teeming metropolis of Berlin, moving into a studio that would, in short order, be situated next door to that of Max Pechstein. The two began to work closely together, a partnership that no doubt incentivized each artist to push his stylistic expressions further.
The vibrant life of the urban center provided Kirchner with a totally new and stimulating experience, contrasting both with his time in Dresden and his summer vacations in Fehmarn. The move to Berlin profoundly influenced both Kirchner's subject matter and style. Promenading figures provided his main focus, rendered in an increasingly elongated manner, with the energetic, diagonal hatching that became the hallmark of his mature Expressionist painting. As Edward Lucie-Smith wrote: “Kirchner was indeed producing some of his best work of this epoch, notably the hallucinatory Berlin street scenes featuring prostitutes which give a strong impression of the feverish atmosphere of the German capital just before and just after the beginning of the war” (E. Lucie-Smith, Lives of the Twentieth Century Artists, London, 1986, p. 62).
The sitter for Blaue Dame im Tiergarten (Lady in Blue in the Park) is almost certainly Erna Schilling, whom Kirchner met upon his arrival in Berlin. Schilling and her sister would become Kirchner’s principal models during this period of massive creativity and frenetic urban energy. “The composition of humans,” Kirchner wrote, “was strongly influenced through my third woman friend [Erna Schilling], a Berliner—who from then on shared my life with me—and her sister. The beautiful architectural, austere forms of these two girls’ bodies followed upon the soft Saxon figures. In thousands of drawings, prints, and paintings these bodies shaped my sense of beauty in creating the physically beautiful woman of our time” (quoted in P. Kort, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Berlin Street Scene, New York, 2007, p. 20). Erna and her sister dominated the Berlin street scenes—the masterpieces of Kirchner’s oeuvre. In the present composition she stands in full, formal dress, a plumed hat and intricate lace collar complemented by a pair of spectacles held delicately in her right hand. Her setting, the great urban park of the Tiergarten in central Berlin, remains primarily abstracted though the leaves and color in the background hint at its enveloping presence. A related work, also depicting Erna, focuses on her strong profile in a café setting. These two depictions of relative tranquility of the female figure are the genesis to the charged dynamism of men and women in the Berlin street, which Kirchner would paint just a few months later.
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