Dance was a popular subject for Brücke artists, who viewed it as an immediate and uninhibited form of expression. Here Pechstein’s scribbled lines and loose brushwork against the acid-yellow paper simulate the hazy, lurid atmosphere and harsh, unnatural lighting of a nightclub.
Gallery label from German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, March 27–July 11, 2011.
Max Pechstein, who joined the German Expressionist group Brücke (Bridge) in Dresden in 1906, was the only member with academic training as a painter (the founders were all architecture students). He was a dedicated printmaker, completing more than nine hundred prints between 1905 and 1950. Although he moved to Berlin in 1908, three years ahead of the rest of the Brücke group, he remained close, both personally and stylistically, to fellow members Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel.
Dancers is an exuberant example of the Brücke artists' aspirations for art to be a force for social and cultural renewal. Their anti-bourgeois taste for subjects taken from the fringes of society led them to base many images on the cabaret, with dance especially valued as an immediate and uninhibited form of expression. Stylistically the print is similarly radical, with Pechstein's scribbled outlines and fuzzy, speckled inking causing the overall composition to verge on the abstract. His unusual choice of an acidic yellow paper helps to suggest the lurid atmosphere of a nightclub.
In 1912 Pechstein was expelled from Brücke for exhibiting his work at the Berlin Secession without the other members' consent. Two years later, he traveled to the South Seas, inspired by Oceanic sculpture in the ethnographic museum in Berlin. He later served in the infantry in World War I.
Dancer Reflected in a Mirror was created during the postwar years, a time of confusion and instability in German society. In contrast to the exultant airborne dancer in Pechstein's earlier image, the performer here seems bored and oppressed by her role. The male observers appear similarly disengaged, staring in various directions with unfocused eyes. The mood of indifference in this print contrasts with its bold compositional structure and strong colors, qualities that typified the Expressionist idiom.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Starr Figura, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 58.