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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German, 1880–1938)

Street, Dresden

1908 (reworked 1919; dated on painting 1907)
Oil on canvas
59 1/4" x 6' 6 7/8" (150.5 x 200.4 cm)
Credit Line:
MoMA Number:
Audio Program excerpt

Kirchner and the Berlin Street

, August 3–November 10, 2008

Curator, Deborah Wye: Street, Dresden was painted in 1908. It's very different from the street scenes that are the focus of this show, which were painted in Berlin.

The Brücke artists group, of which Kirchner was a member, had come together in Dresden in 1905, so this was just a few years after that. And they came under the influence of a variety of artists as they learned their craft. And among those were the French fauve artists, including Matisse. And its thought that the coloration of this painting which is really quite bright, is influenced by the French fauve artists.

This is a busy day, with bourgeois women shopping. There's a pink street, which invites you in a very welcoming way. When Kirchner comes to the Berlin street scenes, the palette is very different. It's kind of caustic. It's jarring. It really matches the environment of Berlin, whereas this palette matched what Kirchner was feeling when he lived in Dresden.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 60

Street, Dresden is Kirchner's bold, discomfiting attempt to render the jarring experience of modern urban bustle. The scene radiates tension. Its packed pedestrians are locked in a constricting space; the plane of the sidewalk, in an unsettlingly intense pink (part of a palette of shrill and clashing colors), slopes steeply upward, and exit to the rear is blocked by a trolley car. The street—Dresden's fashionable Königstrasse—is crowded, even claustrophobically so, yet everyone seems alone. The women at the right, one clutching her purse, the other her skirt, are holding themselves in, and their faces are expressionless, almost masklike. A little girl is dwarfed by her hat, one in a network of eddying, whorling shapes that entwine and enmesh the human figures.

Developing in parallel with the French Fauves, and influenced by them and by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, the German artists of Die Brücke explored the expressive possibilities of color, form, and composition in creating images of contemporary life. Street, Dresden is a bold expression of the intensity, dissonance, and anxiety of the modern city. Kirchner later wrote, "The more I mixed with people the more I felt my loneliness."

Audio Program excerpt

MoMA Audio: Collection

, 2008

Curator, Joachim Pissarro: Kirchner and his colleagues in Germany created the language that we know as German Expressionism, a form of modern art that would be the reflection of the modern street life of Germany, of Dresden especially, right before the First World War.

The center stage of this composition seems to be occupied mainly by women. You cannot quite make out the contents of their eyes. But as they are so readily, openly facing us, the viewers, they seem to be offering something to us. And what are they offering, if not themselves?

The figure of the child who occupies absolute center stage within the composition, is she the daughter of these prostitutes? Is she a nice, well brought up child from a bourgeois society? Kirchner doesn’t quite tell us. He just puts together these jarring elements, and it’s up to us to figure out what this mad city is all about.

There is something on the one hand intoxicatingly beautiful with the rendering of these vivacious, high pitched hues that he’s using. At the same time one could say that there’s something slightly nightmarish in the way that he is rendering it.

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