Kirchner and the Berlin Street A MoMA exhibition and catalogue present the German Expressionist
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner with 7 of his Berlin street scene paintings together
with 60 works on paper, drawings, pastels,
prints, woodcuts, from August 3 until November 10, 2008
Article added on August 3, 2008
The German Expressionist Ernst
Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) killed himself with a gun in Davos, Switzerland,
on June 15, 1938. The year before, six hundred of his works had been
“degenerated” by the Nazis. Subsequently, 32 of his works were shown in the
“Degenerated Art” (Entartete Kunst) traveling exhibition in Nazi Germany.
In 1913, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner wrote the chronicle of the German
Expressionist movement The Bridge (Die Brücke, 1905-1913),
which was disapproved by his fellow artists. Soon after this and other
Die Brücke dissolved.
The same year, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, the co-founder of Die Brücke
was depressed, but managed to have his first solo exhibitions in the cities
of Berlin and Hagen. In the fall of 1913, he began his Berlin Street Scene
series, today considered the artistic highlight of his oeuvre.
Today, August 3, 2008 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (MoMA) opens
a special exhibition dedicated to Kirchner and the Berlin Street. For
the first time, seven of Kirchner's eleven known paintings of the Berlin
Street Scene series, which he executed from 1913 to 1915, are shown
In addition to the seven paintings, the MoMA exhibition and catalogue display 60 works on
paper, drawings, pastels, prints, woodcuts and three sketchbooks (presented
also in electronic versions that allow for pages to be viewed).
In 1911, together with all other
members of the artist's movement Die Brücke, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
had left Dresden for the dynamic capital which, in the last years of the
German Empire, was Europe's third largest city.
After the Brücke group disbanded in May 1913, Kirchner felt
discouraged and lonely. Later, he said about the period that
“...and agonizing restlessness drove [him] out onto the streets day and night,
which were filled with people and cars”.
In the fall of 1913, he began working on his city scene series (Berliner
Strassenszenen). His paintings express the contradictions of the modern
city life in a period of rapid change and development. Nighttime and daytime
glamour face loneliness and decadence, with prostitutes (Kokotten)
present in many of his works of art.
As an Expressionist, he was in search of the authentic and raw energy and
vitality of the German capital. He expressed the vivid eroticism in the
Berlin streets, coupled with feelings of alienation, which become a metaphor
for big-city life.
Kirchner moved away from the bright colors and the curving lines of his
earlier work towards a strident palette with angular forms translating on
canvas the high-pitched energy and lurid atmosphere of pre-war Berlin.
Glamour and excitement, agitation and danger are expressed through a jaded
After the war, in the Weimar Republic, the contradictions will be much
stronger. The city will still be vibrant, with a crazy nightlife full of
cabarets. But that situation with a population impoverished by
hyperinflation and disillusioned by the lost war and the harsh Versailles
peace treaty will be best represented by the works of George Grosz.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York
City owns one of the seven Berlin paintings by Kirchner on display in the
special exhibition. The MoMA's holdings of Kirchner's prints, drawings and
illustrated books constitute the largest museum collection of the artist's
works in the United States.
The other lenders to the
Kirchner and the Berlin Street
exhibition,, museums and collectors, are from Germany, Italy, Switzerland
and the United States.
The exhibition documents Kirchner's work in progress. The artist
examined the street scenes with an investigatory fervor. He made sketches on
the street in notebooks, three of which are on display in the MoMA
exhibition. Then, his works evolved in the studio, where he used pen and
ink, pastel, charcoal as well as printmaking techniques such as etching,
woodcut and lithography. Finally, he translated his “direct and authentic”
impressions of the contradictions of the city life on canvas, giving us
early expressions of the nervousness and the psyche of men in the modern
metropolis in a form that rejected the art taught in the traditional
The MoMA exhibition catalogue is the most detailed book in English on
Kirchner's Berlin street scenes. Deborah Wye is a specialist of German
Expressionism. She is the curator of the exhibition and has authored this
catalogue. Deborah Wye: Kirchner and the Berlin
Street. MoMA, 2008, 138 pages, 133 color and 7 black-and-white
reproductions. Order the catalogue book from
The MoMA exhibition catalogue is the most detailed book in English on Kirchner's
Berlin street scenes. Deborah Wye: Kirchner and the Berlin Street. MoMA,
2008, 138 pages, 133 color and 7 black-and-white reproductions. Order the
catalogue book from