Kirchner and the Berlin Street

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Untitled from Sketchbook 53. 1912–13
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Untitled from Sketchbook 149. 1913
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Untitled from Sketchbook 87. 1914–15

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Untitled from Sketchbook 53. 1912–13; Untitled from Sketchbook 149. 1913; Untitled from Sketchbook 87. 1914–15

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Untitled from Sketchbook 53
1912-13
Pencil. Page: 8 1/8 x 6 7/16" (20.6 x 16.4 cm). Kirchner Museum Davos, Switzerland Untitled from Sketchbook 149
1913
Pencil. Page: 8 x 6 3/8" (20.4 x 16.2 cm). Kirchner Museum Davos, Switzerland Untitled from Sketchbook 87
1914–15
Pencil. Page: 8 x 6 1/2" (20.4 x 16.6 cm). Kirchner Museum Davos, Switzerland Audio courtesy of Acoustiguide

Curator, Deborah Wye: I decided to organize one area of the exhibition devoted to Kirchner's working process. And I did this because there's a really large body of work on paper that relates to the street scene paintings, more so than in any other motif in his work as a whole. And that's an interesting phenomenon, because it showed the seriousness with which he took this series.

Kirchner was an artist who always kept a sketchbook in his pocket. In this period in Berlin, he seemed to have been particularly lonely and spent a lot of time in cafes or just wandering the streets. His sketchbooks are filled with his interpretations of the city.

In some cases, you can't tell at first, because the sketchbook drawings look like pure scribbles. He wanted to get a two-dimensional equivalent of this life force, and he actually called what he did hieroglyphs. Sometimes he barely seemed to have looked down at his sketchbook as he was drawing, because it looks just like such a tangle of lines. He described the emotion that he felt, when he captured something on paper, as the ecstasy of first sight. And I think his choice of the word ecstasy is very pointed, because his work as a whole has an erotic overcast. So the word sensual or ‘ecstasy’ would be a very telling choice of vocabulary for Kirchner at this time.

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