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Expressionism and City Life

Through their art, German and Austrian Expressionists expressed their conflicted views of urban life.


Street, Dresden

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
(German, 1880–1938)

1919. Oil on canvas, 59 1/4" x 6' 6 7/8" (150.5 x 200.4 cm)

At the time he made this painting, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was living in Dresden, a large city in southeast Germany. In a letter to fellow painter Erich Heckel, he wrote of the Dresden crowds, “Completely strange faces pop up as interesting points through the crowd. I am carried along with the current, lacking will. To move becomes an unacceptable effort.” Kirchner heightened the colors of this city scene, depicting the figures with masklike faces and vacant eyes in order to capture the excitement and psychological alienation wrought by modernization.

The crowded city street—here, Dresden’s fashionable and wealthy Königstrasse (King Street)—was a frequent subject for artists in the German Expressionist collective Die Brücke (The Bridge), which Kirchner helped found in 1905. Artists associated with Die Brücke sought an authenticity of expression that its members felt had been lost with the innovations of modern life.

Artist group active in Dresden, Germany, from 1905 to 1913, and closely associated with the development of Expressionism. The group is associated with an interest in the distortion of reality and expressive use of color to respond to the turmoil of modern urban society.

Multimedia

AUDIO: Curator Joachim Pissarro discusses Street, Dresden