Kirchner and the Berlin Street

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Street, Berlin (Strasse, Berlin) 1913

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Street, Berlin. 1913

Oil on canvas, 47 1/2 x 35 7/8" (120.6 x 91.1 cm). Purchase

Curator, Deborah Wye: This is a painting that's been in The Museum of Modern Art's collection for a long time. So, part of the purpose of this exhibition was to try to understand this painting in a broader way by bringing together other works in the same series. I never had any idea that the two women were actually prostitutes.

But the women have a very kind of knowing, conspiratorial conversation going on between them. You might wonder, why are they out at night so late, all dressed up, without any male companions anyway? I'm not sure that would have been considered proper in 1913.

Their steps are syncopated in a certain way, and their hips actually seem to sway in a certain motion. It's as if they're really trying to get attention. Even though of course the painting is static, Kirchner has created a sense of motion in the way they're walking forward.

There are men lurking in the background, some of whom look as if they're about to approach the two women. A male figure, to the right, seems to be looking into a store window. But I feel suspicious of him. He's carrying a cane and the cane is almost touching the women. He could possibly be the procurer, who's making sure they're doing what they should be doing.