ERNST LUDWIG KIRCHNER
Berlin Street Scene
Pastel, charcoal on ribbed handmade paper
Inv. No. 16069
67.7 × 49.3 cm
When Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a member of the artists’ group »Die Brücke«, moved from Dresden to Berlin in 1911, modern city life became a central theme in his work, and the pictures he executed during this phase are now considered a high point in his artistic career. This pastel drawing of a Berlin street scene reflects the same preoccupations as a large number of paintings, other drawings and graphic works in which he took as his subject the hustle and bustle of the capital’s streets and squares, always adapting his manner of working to the special characteristics of whichever medium he was using.
The foreground of the scene is dominated by a configuration of three elongated figures that takes up the entire height of the picture surface: with rapid, dynamic strokes Kirchner describes a man wearing a hat and coat and two fashionably dressed women. Already the outfits of these ladies alone – hats with feathers, the extravagantly oversized jacket collar and the high-heeled shoes – give them a striking appearance. Their flamboyant poses and mask-like faces – emphasized by garish light-blue colouring as they scan their surroundings – identify them as cocottes. The jagged-edged shapes, abounding in acute angles, and the predominant colours – black, the turquoise of the costume, the violet of the client’s hat and trousers, but above all the sulphurous yellow of the light surrounding them – all combine to evoke an aggressive mood. Tellingly, a phalanx of men’s legs stretched out in parallel formation leads from behind the right-hand figure into the depths of the otherwise undefined space, a compositional element also present in the painting Friedrichstrasse (1914; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart). In Berlin Street Scene the sense of energyladen tension is conveyed with total immediacy by the vehement drawing style and the intensity of the pastel colours.
Kirchner’s perception of the provocative eroticism of urban civilization is very different from the natural, sensuous approach apparent in the works he had executed in Dresden and on the island of Fehmarn. The »Brücke« community of artists had broken up in 1913, by which time Kirchner held a place at the very centre of the Expressionist movement as a result of his work for the periodical Der Sturm. It is pictures like his drawing of the Berlin Street Scene that have shaped our image of the mood in that metropolis of Berlin on the eve of the First World War.
This pastel drawing once belonged to the collector Carl Hagemann, who remained a friend of the artist’s until the end of his life. It is thanks to the »Dr. Carl Hagemann Bequest« that the Städel Department of Prints and Drawings possesses one of the most significant collections of Expressionist art.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Retrospective
23 April to 25 July 2010, Städel Annex, ground floor and upper level