'I am happy that you'll keep the 'Horses'. The painting really suits you being the fine horseman that you are' (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 'Letter to Hans Fehr' 1933, cited in Hans Fehr, Emil Nolde. Ein Buch der Freundschaft, Cologne, 1957, p. 150).
As a full-time employee of the German education system, Hans Fehr, albeit a Swiss national, was considered under the law of the time as a German citizen and was therefore eligible for military service. On account of his skills as a rider, in 1915 Fehr was serving as a riding instructor for the German army when, 'one morning,' he remembered, 'a soldier appeared on the riding field who should never have been put in uniform, as one could see from a long way off. It was Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, the painter. He presented himself, clicked his heels clumsily and reported for duty. 'But what are you doing here Herr Kirchner?' - 'I was called up suddenly. I shall never be a good soldier. I know that if I'm sent to the front I'll be shot dead immediately'...He was evidently suffering. He was pale and was losing weight. Anyone could see that he was destined to collapse, sooner or later' (Hans Fehr, Errinerungen an Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Bern, 1955, cited in L. Grisebach, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cologne, 1999, p. 128).
Fehr, taking pity on Kirchner and at some risk to himself, became instrumental in obtaining Kirchner's release from the military and after the war and his return to Switzerland used to visit Kirchner in the artist's new Alpine home in the village of Frauenkirch near Davos.
Fehr bought Kirchner's Drei Pferde from the artist in 1933. The painting, dated 1923 on the reverse in Kirchner's hand, depicts a joyous, almost abstract pattern of three dancing horses evoking the spirit of the circus, one of the artist's favourite subjects. As Kirchner noted in his letter to Fehr, Drei Pferde was an appropriate purchase for his one-time riding instructor to acquire.
The verso of this painting displays a newly-discovered landscape dating from the height of Kirchner's involvement with Die Brücke. Depicting a lakeside scene executed in broad impulsive brushstrokes of radiant colour, this interesting work may well derive from the summer painting trips that Kirchner made, along with other artists from the Brücke group, to the lakes of Moritzburg near Dresden between 1909 and 1911.