Along with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was a founding member of Die Brücke (The Bridge), a group of artists who responded to urban alienation and the turmoil of modern life with exaggerated, sometimes caustic imagery. Schmidt-Rottluff reduced figures and scenes to their simplest forms in order to produce what he considered authentic expression.
In Houses at Night, he presents an empty street lined with buildings, whose sharp angles and diagonals and glowing colors imbue what otherwise might be a quiet scene with intensity and energy. The jutting geometrical shapes in this painting are similar to those in the disorienting set design for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a popular Expressionist film made several years later, in 1920. The film’s director, Robert Wiene, took advantage of the distorted perspective of Expressionist painting to evoke the anxiety of a town plagued by a sleepwalking murderer.