Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's FOUR NUDES

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's FOUR NUDES

Painted in 1913, the last year of the avant-garde collective Die Brücke, Vier Akte unter Bäumen exemplifies the zest and vigour that characterised this important artistic movement.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's FOUR NUDES

Painted in 1913, the last year of the avant-garde collective Die Brücke, Vier Akte unter Bäumen exemplifies the zest and vigour that characterised this important artistic movement and the ambitions of the young artist who was its founder and author of its governing philosophy. In 1911 Kirchner moved from Dresden to Berlin, and whilst he was ineluctably drawn to the dynamic city life, he felt a need to counteract it with visits to the country. The theme of the nude moving freely and uninhibited within a landscape was a key theme in the work of Kirchner and his fellow Die Brücke artists. During this time, Kirchner often joined Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff on painting trips in the country, such as the Baltic island of Fehmarn and the Moritzburger See. The artists would spend several weeks with their female companions and models, bathing and playing nude and living in tents or huts. It was this experience of Freikörperkultur, coupled with tribal art that Kirchner had encountered in Dresden museums, that inspired his paintings of nude bathers and erotic scenes that covered the walls of his studio.

By the time Kirchner painted Vier Akte unter Bäumen, his artistic gleanings had become more international in scope. In 1909 he saw an exhibition of Matisse’s Fauvist compositions at the Paul Cassirer Gallery in Berlin. He was so impressed with the wild colouration of these pictures that he tried to recruit Matisse to join Die Brücke. Nothing ever came of this offer, but the effect that Matisse’s influence had on the members of Die Brücke was profound. Paintings created by Kirchner, Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff over the following years demonstrate an exuberant application of paint and their preference for unmitigated pigments and broad, sweeping brushstrokes is clearly indebted to Matisse. The flatness of the composition and the use of bold black outlines defining the bodies and the trees in the present work also reflect the influence of prints, particularly woodcuts, on Kirchner’s painting.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880 - 1938, VIER AKTE UNTER BÄUMEN (FOUR NUDES UNDER TREES). Incised K (lower left); signed E, L Kirchner and stampled with the Nachlass mark on the reverse, oil on canvas. 120.5 by 90cm. 47 1/2 by 35 1/2 in. Painted in 1913. Estimate 3,500,000 — 5,000,000 GBP, Sotheby's IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART EVENING SALE on March 1.

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