The crowded city street—here, Dresden's fashionable Königstrasse—was a frequent subject for the German Expressionist group Die Brücke (The Bridge), an art collective Kirchner helped found in 1905. The group sought an authenticity of expression that its members felt had been lost with the innovations of modern life. Kirchner has violently heightened the colors of this urban scene, depicting its figures with masklike faces and vacant eyes in an attempt to capture the psychological alienation wrought by modernization. On the painting's reverse Kirchner painted a scene of nude women bathing in a natural landscape. Such idyllic scenes were frequent subjects for Die Brücke artists.
Gallery label from 2009.
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."
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 60.