German Expressionism

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Self Portrait as a Soldier 1915
Form: Oil paint applied in a quick, expressionistic manner. The faces and bodies appear to have elements of cubism, and there is little regard for anatomical accuracy.

Iconography: In this painting, Kirchner is portraying himself as a soldier. He is missing his right hand, his painting hand. This is his way of saying that by being forced into mandatory military service, Germany has effectively robbed him of what he loves to do. They have, in essence, taken his life. The naked prostitute behind him is a symbol of the degeneracy he observed soldiers taking part in on shore leave, and he cigarette is a vice which many soldiers used to cope with stress.

Context: Kirchner was forced into service, as is mandatory of German men, and was resentful and angry about it. He ultimately suffreed a nervous breakdown and was sent to a sanatorium. 


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner:  1880-1938
Street Berlin, Germany  1913
Form: Expressionist oil painting. There are cubist elements to the way the figures are constructed, and they are also elongated and uncomfortable looking. The color of the street is pink, and the space around the figures does not make any real sense.

Iconography: Entering the War, Germany was filled with a sense of tension and negative energy. The people of Germany wished to continue life as though war was not iminent, and Kirchner saw this hypocrisy. Though the peole are dressed in their finery, they are stiff and wooden. He wished to convey the falseness and futility of the upper-classes efforts to maintain a way of life that would soon be lost because of the war.

Context: Kirchner first studied architecture, before deciding to become a painter. It may be this fact that contributes to the cubist elements of many of his works. Kirchner moved to Switzerland to escape the Nazi occupation of Germany and their censorship of art. In 1938, sick and depressed, he ended up commiting suicide.


Kirchner, Street in Dresden 1907 59"x 6' 
Form: Expressionistic work, crowded picture plane, non-local colors, mask-like representations of faces and people.

Iconography: As an early  work, this scene depicts Kirchners claustraphobia and dislike of crowds. The street is packed full of people, but none are interacting with each other. He seems to have painted the faces as though everyone were wearing a mask. The colors used are garish and discomfiting, greens, reds, and blues smeared on the faces seems to suggest sickness and tension. The pink used for the street gives the painting and uncomfortable feeling.

Context: Kirchner appears to be a man beset by phobia and distrust of people on the whole.He disliked cities and once wrote, "The more I mixed with people, the more I felt my loneliness."


Kirchner Girl Under a Japanese Umbrella c1909 
oil on canvas36x31"
Form: Expressionistic, almost abstracted nude. Non-local color, thick brushstrokes, and incorrect anatomy all fill this painting.

Iconography: Kirchner and his counterparts wanted to live a bohemian lifestyle. The reclining nude, painted in bright yellows, reds and orange, was a prostitute. The Japanese umbrella used here is supposed t conjure up feeling of something being "exotic", like the girl herself. She is seen as a wanton subject of lust. She herself is a bohemian ideal, a girl who shuns modern conventions of female behavior and lounges about nude in an artists' studio.

Context: This painting is all about the world through the male gaze. Where Kirchner and his friends reveled in painting these women in the nude, at this point in time they also painted each othe only engaging in 'civilized' pursuits, such as playing cards or reading. This painting would suggest to the viewer that theirs is male-dominated world, where women are mre prone to clothes-shedding than to needlepoint.