Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner ~ Berlin to Switzerland, Style and Theme Changes

Berlin Street Scene is the one painting most people think of when they hear the name Ernst Kirchner. Painted in 1913-1914 it preceded Fir Trees by about twelve years. Much had happened in Kirchner's life when he painted this and much would soon happen to forever change the course of his life and work.

In 1911, Ernst Kirchner had left Dresden and moved to Berlin. He not only moved but he also left the woman he had been living with, Doris Grosse. Dodo had refused to move with him. It wasn't until the next year in June that he met Erna Schilling and her sister Gerda. They became the subject of his paintings much as Dodo had in Dresden. Gerda drops out of their lives in 1914; Erna and Ernst remain together until his suicide in 1938. Berlin Street Scene reflects the frantic pace of Kirchner's life and life in Berlin during this period. Elongated lines are used to depict all of his figures. Bold primary colors dominate.

Berlin Street Scene was part of "Street Scene", a series of painting of life in Berlin. Kirchner began this series in 1913, the year die Brucke was disbanded. In 1914, he completed Berlin Street Scene, but also felt compelled to join the artillery to avoid conscription in the army after World War I broke out. He asked to be a driver for the artillery but even this was too strenuous for him physically and mentally and he was discharged in 1915. For the next several years, Kirchner was in and out of sanitarioms in both Germany and Switzerland.

It was in Switzerland that Kirchner remained for the rest of his life. His life became calmer and that shows in his work.His brushstrokes broadened and his work centered on landscapes, bucolic, certainly more peaceful than the frantic Berlin life. His color palate involved bold primaries, but many times seemed predominately blue, the blue that links Berlin Street Scene and Fir Trees.

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