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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
AKT VOR DEM SPIEGEL (NUDE AT THE MIRROR)
JUMP TO LOT
8

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
AKT VOR DEM SPIEGEL (NUDE AT THE MIRROR)
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening Sale

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London

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
1880 - 1938
AKT VOR DEM SPIEGEL (NUDE AT THE MIRROR)
signed E. L. Kirchner and dated 15 (lower left); dedicated Herrn Dr. Bauer zu Weihnachten 37 von E. und E. L. Kirchner on the reverse
oil on canvas
120.5 by 60cm.
47 3/8 by 23 5/8 in.
Painted circa 1915-20.
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Provenance

Dr Frédéric Bauer, Davos (a gift from the artist, Christmas 1937)

Roman Norbert Ketterer, Stuttgart, Campione d’Italia & Lugano (acquired from the estate of the above in 1957)

Thence by descent to the present owner in 2002

Exhibited

Nuremberg, Fränkische Galerie; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Freiburg, Augustinermuseum; Mannheim, Kunsthalle & Berlin-Zehlendorf, Haus am Waldsee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gemälde und Graphik. Sammlung Dr. F. Bauer, Davos, 1952-53, no. 11, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Stehender Akt)

Bremen, Kunsthalle; Hanover, Kunstverein; The Hague, Gemeentemuseum; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Zurich, Kunsthaus, Meisterwerke des deutschen Expressionismus, 1960-61, no. 31, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Basel, Kunsthalle, E. L. Kirchner und Rot-Blau, 1967, no. 52

Salzburg, Museum der Moderne, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 2009-10, no. 22, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung; Bern, Kunstmuseum & Oslo, Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arkitektur og Design, Das Kunstmuseum Bern zu Gast in München… Giacometti, Hodler, Klee… Höhepunkte der Schweiz aus sieben Jahrhunderten, 2010-12, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Madrid, Fundación MAPFRE, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 2012, no. 61, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Málaga, Museo Picasso & Schwäbisch Hall, Kunsthalle Würth, Picasso. Registros alemanes / Picasso und Deutchland, 2015-16, illustrated in colour in the catalogue 

Bielefeld, Kunsthalle, Der böse Expressionismus. Trauma und Tabu, 2017-18, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle des Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Erträumte Reisen, 2018-19, no. 15, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Literature

Kirchner Archives, Photoalbum II, photo 171, illustration 441

Will Grohmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Stuttgart, 1958, illustrated p. 120

Will Grohmann, E. L. Kirchner, New York, 1961, illustrated in colour p. 94

Donald E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968, no. 441, illustrated p. 331

Roman Norbert Ketterer & Gerd Presler (ed.), Legenden am Auktionspult. Die Wiederentdeckung des deutschen Expressionismus, Munich, 1999, illustrated in colour p. 233

Catalogue Note

Akt vor dem Spiegel is a powerful example of Kirchner’s painting from the time he lived in Berlin, where he moved from Dresden in 1911 together with other Die Brücke members including Erich Heckel and Max Pechstein, setting up a studio in Berlin-Wilmersdorf (fig. 3). With its bold colouration and avant-garde approach to a traditional subject-matter, the work embodies the values proclaimed in Die Brücke programme, penned by Kirchner in 1906: ‘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 Charles Harrison & Paul Wood (ed.), Art in Theory, 1900-1990, Oxford & Cambridge, 1993, pp. 67-68). What Kirchner and his colleagues were promoting was a freedom of expression and a rejection of the traditions of painting that they had encountered as art students in Dresden at the turn of the twentieth century.

Since the early Die Brücke years Kirchner had been fascinated by the subject of the human body and he explored this subject in both domestic settings and in nature. As is often the case in his figure paintings, the model in Akt vor dem Spiegel is most likely his companion Erna Schilling, whom he met in Berlin in 1912, recognisable by her characteristic hair style. In depicting her nude figure, the artist was influenced by the simple, expressive rendering of the shapes and forms of African sculptures which he had seen in Ethnographic Museums in Dresden and Berlin (fig. 1). Despite his traditional academic training, the artist gradually learned that true representation could not be achieved through objective faithfulness to nature. The reductive, highly stylised manner of African sculpture had a great influence on Kirchner’s own sculptural work (fig. 2), examples of which were scattered around his studio, and often featured in his oils. His primary concern during this key period in his career was the representation of the human form in its most primitive or uninhibited state, and the present painting strongly reflects that aesthetic goal.

Writing about Kirchner’s figure paintings, Norman Rosenthal commented: ‘His depictions of men and women, naked or clothed, together or alone, are made so remarkable by their truthfulness, their sense of happiness, ecstasy, sadness or thoughtfulness, seemingly “betraying”, as Lucius Grisebach has pointed out, “no allegorical or symbolic intent. He painted and drew his subjects in everyday attitudes without troubling over deeper meanings.” The lives of Kirchner and his colleagues were of course unconventional by the bourgeois standards of the day, and their art completely reflected their way of life’ (N. Rosenthal in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: The Dresden and Berlin Years (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2003, p. 11).

In the present composition one can discern objects from Kirchner’s studio that are today known from the artist’s own photographs, most notably the stove on the far right, and on its top, painted with exaggerated proportions, the pitcher seen in several photographs from the time. 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’ (J. Lloyd in ibid., p. 15).

In Akt vor dem Spiegel the artist effectively uses a slight distortion of perspective whereby he transcends the laws of perception and moves towards a more symbolic concept of space. The mirror indicated by the painting’s title is not visible in the confines of the composition, and is only discernible by the figure’s self-absorbed posture and her gaze which appears directed at something outside of the scope of the canvas. The themes of reflection and introspection are more explicitly rendered in Kirchner’s Rückenakt mit Spiegel und Mann of 1912 (fig. 4) in which one can see both the nude figure and her image in the mirror. A subject with many precedents throughout the history of Western art, it found a powerful manifestation in works by a number of other Modern painters, most notably Picasso (fig. 5), Matisse and Beckmann.

Having painted Akt vor dem Spiegel in his Berlin studio in 1915, Kirchner added a few finishing touches in Davos several years later. The artist suffered from ill health after military service and in 1917, in order to convalesce, he moved to Davos where he lived with Erna until the end of his life. Kirchner kept the present work in his own collection until only months before his death, and in 1937 gave it as a Christmas present to his physician and major patron Dr Frédéric Bauer.

Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening Sale

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London