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 the 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 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 (The Bridge), an association cofounded by Kirchner, 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.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
“The more I mixed with people the more I felt my loneliness,” Kirchner once wrote. Here he depicted Dresden’s fashionable Königstrasse as a place that is crowded yet in which everyone seems alone. The women on the right side of the composition stare vacantly ahead, their faces frighteningly masklike. A little girl moves awkwardly through the center. She is dwarfed by her large hat, one in a network of eddying shapes that radiate tension throughout the scene. Kirchner’s palette of shrill and clashing colors further intensifies the sense that both dynamism and alienation are, paradoxically, key characteristics of the modern urban experience.
Gallery label from 2019
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.
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.