Narrator: The artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner made Street, Dresden in 1908, and reworked it in 1919, using oil paint on canvas. The work is nearly 5 feet high by 6 feet, 7 inches wide. In metric units, it is about 151 centimeters high and 200 centimeters wide.
Kirchner belonged to a group of German artists who used the expressive possibilities of color, form, and composition. These elements are put to work in this painting to evoke the intensity and even dissonance of modern, urban life, during the early 1900s.
Rendered in loose, expressive brushstrokes of vivid colors, the painting centers around a city street bustling with pedestrians and a crowded streetcar. There is no visible sky as the dense masses of figures push up against the left, right, and top edges of the canvas. Some appear to stride toward us with their faces expressionless, while others appear to walk away from us, backs turned. Beneath the crowd’s feet is a bubblegum pink street. With no discernable source of light, and no shadows cast, the street appears to tilt toward us, adding to the sense of claustrophobia in this scene.
Let’s examine the right half of the painting where three women and one man cluster.
The woman nearest the middle of the canvas wears a long green dress and a brimmed orange hat with green and blue embellishments. Her hair is rendered as two auburn puffs covering her forehead. Her face is loosely painted in bold orange, and her eyes are horizontal dashes of black. A long blue and red scarf drapes over her left shoulder, covering her left arm. Her right claw-like hand clasps a bright red fringed purse.
Beside and slightly behind her, another woman faces us. She has a lime green face. Strokes of burnt orange arc above her solid black eyes with bright orange under her eyes. She wears a large black brimmed hat, a yellow-green jacket, and a long blue skirt. Her hands clutch her skirt, lifting the hem off the ground, revealing a yellow-green petticoat and blue shoes.
A third woman is behind the first two. Her orange face is accented with green brushstrokes. Her long blue and green skirt and mint green top are rendered in less detail, creating a sense that she is in the distance.
At the far right edge, a man in a blue and purple striped overcoat and black bowler hat appears closest to us. Only part of his face and body are visible, cropped by the right and lower edges of the canvas. His face is green and orange. Strokes of red and dark blue create shadowy contours beneath his eyes.
Behind these four figures are two more men with green faces. They are rendered in less detail and they face inward, with little space between them.
Let’s move on to the left half of the scene, which is dominated by the pink street, its surface mottled with green, yellow, blue, and darker pink.
Just left of center, a small figure—perhaps a little girl—stands with her feet wide apart on the street. She wears a knee-length navy dress. She holds her right arm slightly away from her body and grasps something lime green in her hand. She has long lime green and orange hair. Her face is dark orange and her facial features and body are painted loosely. A dramatically oversized black hat with ragged green trim resembling sharp teeth forms a dark halo around her head.
A streetcar appears near the top of the painting, in the distance behind the girl. It is reddish orange, and populated with the sketchy black shapes of four passengers.
Along the left and top edges of the canvas, a dense crowd appears to move towards the top left corner. Their dark blue, green, and black figures are faintly delineated with thin bright orange outlines. A larger figure, walking away from us and toward this crowd, wears a long red coat and a black hat capped by a green feather.
In a letter about the crowds of the city, Kirchner wrote to a fellow painter, “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.”