Ernst Ludwig Kirchner co-founded the expressionist collective Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden in 1905.
They were a group of bohemian artists who rejected academic styles of painting and instead revived older modes of expression, most importantly the wood-cut – even their manifesto was carved into timber.
They favoured a warped form of the figurative over pure abstraction and their intentionally crude draughtsmanship was influenced by primitivism.
The members were very young and very male. The female nude was a vital part of their work, during summer they would go (with their life-models/lovers) to the lakes of Moritzberg to paint the nude figure amid the rolling landscape of Lower Saxony.
Berlin Street Scene was painted as part of Kirchner’s Großstaldtbilder series in 1913: the same year that the group split, and the year of Kirchner’s first major solo exhibition.
Here, Kirchner discards the bright Fauvist colours and playful imagery of his earlier paintings. The women are not life-models but prostitutes, high-collared not nude, their stern faces the only visible flesh.
The movement within the painting is disconcerting. It is unclear whether the two men are pausing or walking quickly by. The taller man’s coat seems to be on backwards, or his head has been spun all the way round – maybe in disgust at the women – his limp-wristed hand and phallic cigarette suggest some kind of post-orgasmic guilt.
The other man, references the Romantic master Caspar David Friedrich’s Rückenfigur, where the turned figure places the viewer within the painting.
Or is it the conflicted Kirchner himself?
Berlin Street Scene, Private Collection, 1913