Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Group of Artists (Artists’ Conversation), 1913 (pre-dated by the artist to 1912)
Oil on canvas, 95 x 95.5 cm
Courtesy of Osthaus Museum Hagen & Institut für Kulturaustausch, Tübingen
This painting imparts an immediate sense of the Bohemian lifestyle in Berlin on the eve of the Great War. Having turned his back on the comparatively provincial city of Dresden, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner lived in Berlin from the autumn of 1911. This work was painted by the artist in a speedy and distorted manner, the overly emphasized outlines acting like cardiograms of his restlessness. Kirchner expressed pure emotions with his colors not only in this particular rendering but throughout the following two and a half decades. The art rebel stated: “You can deduce the rules from a finished work, but you can never build a work upon rules and reproach”.
At the time, the ties between Kirchner and his colleagues from the artists’ association “Die Brücke” were no longer as tight as they had once been in Dresden. In the metropolis Berlin, artists pursued their own paths. Kirchner had just met his future partner Erna Schilling and her sister Gerda who enraptured the artist with their “beautiful, architectonically built and stringently shaped bodies”. Stimulating intellectual exchange was equally as important to Kirchner. Among his friends was the doctor Alfred Döblin who would go on to write the epic novel Berlin Alexanderplatz.
These people had a lot to say to one another, but they needed the right places to get together. In Kirchner’s case, these appropriate venues were his studios, situated first in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Durlacher Straße 14, and then from October 1913 in Berlin-Friedenau, Körnerstraße 45. The interiors of these exotic boudoirs in the heart of Imperial Germany’s capital were dominated by African stools and curtains designed by the artist. In these rather tight spaces visitors were happy to interact closely with one another, whether they were engaged in intense disputes or intimate conversations. There was certainly no place for the pleasure-stifling bourgeois sense of propriety. Beholders wishing to be pulled in by this painting only need to look into the profoundly dark eyes of the two women, while the lively dance of the embroidered figures in the blue background conveys the impression that it is eternal youth that is at work here.