This print, which the artist made shortly after his discharge from military service following a nervous breakdown, represents the riding instruction Kirchner had received as part of his training. The anxiety he felt about his service is conveyed in the nervous energy of his gestural style. Kirchner suffered from medical and psychological problems for the rest of his life as a result of the war; he committed suicide in 1938.
Gallery label from German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, March 27–July 11, 2011.
It was within the artists' group Brücke (Bridge), founded in 1905, that Ernst Ludwig Kirchner formulated his views on art and established a visual language. Together with other core members—Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Pechstein, and, briefly, Emil Nolde—Kirchner sought a new spirit of freedom and authenticity that rejected both the stultifying traditions of the academy and the restrictive conventions of bourgeois society. Brücke artists felt that art could respond to essential life forces with spontaneity and immediacy through such subjects as the nude in nature or figures dancing with frenzy and abandon. Sharing studios and models, teaching each other techniques, and even vacationing together, they evolved a common style that first embraced the fluidity of Fauvism and then turned to the energy and angularity of tribal art for inspiration.
Printmaking was fundamental to Brücke activities, and annual portfolios of prints were published to help the artists gain recognition and produce income. For the most part, however, members' prints were experimental in nature and made with only a few proof impressions. Kirchner continued this unstructured approach to printmaking even after the dissolution of Brücke in 1913, eventually creating some two thousand works, primarily in his own studio. During World War I, after briefly training in the mounted artillery, Kirchner suffered a mental collapse. His depiction as an isolated figure is seen in Evening Patrol of 1915. His series of prints of this period, entitled Schlemihl Meets His Shadow, is also considered the embodiment of his anxiety and paranoia, conditions that would continue to plague him, along with ill health, for the remainder of his life. In 1938, after being ostracized from German art circles by the Nazis, and having hundreds of his paintings removed from museums and declared "degenerate," Kirchner ended his own life.
Publication excerpt from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 52.