Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Street, Dresden by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Zuzanna Stańska 6 May 2023 min Read

The swirling crowds and electric lights of the modern city. This is the subject of today’s Masterpiece Story, created by one of the greatest German Expressionists, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Kirchner was a member of the group of artists Die Brücke. Dresden’s fashionable Königstrasse was a frequent subject of their works.

The group sought an authenticity of expression that its members felt had been lost with the innovations of modern life. The artists were influenced by the Fauvists and by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (look at the forms!) and they explored the expressive possibilities of color, form, and composition in creating images of contemporary life.

Dresden Street painted by German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street, Dresden, 1908 (reworked 1919; dated on painting 1907), Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA.

Everyone is alienated here – the figures have masklike faces and vacant eyes. The street is crowded and it radiates tension. The colors used in the painting were influenced by the French Fauvism artists. This is a busy day, with bourgeois women shopping. There’s a pink street, which invites you in a very welcoming way. There are two women at the right – probably prostitutes. One is clutching her purse, the other her skirt. The whole composition is very claustrophobic. Still, dark clouds are already forming on the horizon, casting long shadows over the future.

In 1933 Kirchner’s works were branded “degenerate” by the Nazis and in 1937 over 600 of his works were sold or destroyed. In 1938, he committed suicide by gunshot.

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