Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Fünf Kokotten (Sch. 222; D. 240)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Fünf Kokotten (Sch. 222; D. 240)
woodcut, 1914, on cream wove paper, a very good impression of this rare and highly important print, second, final state, with margins, several repaired tears at the sheet edges, two reaching into the subject at left, a made-up paper loss at the upper left corner, pale mount staining, the sheet backed
B. 491 x 375 mm., S. 549 x 411 mm.
The artist's estate.
With Roman Norbert Ketterer, Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett.
Acquired from the above in 1954; then by descent to the present owner.
Annemarie & Wolf-Dieter Dube, E. L. Kirchner - Das graphische Werk, Munich, 1967, no. 240 II.
Magdalena M. Moeller, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Meisterwerke der Druckgraphik, Stuttgart, 1990, p. 184, no. 85 (another impression illustrated).
Magdalena M. Moeller, Kirchner in Berlin - Die "Straenszenen" als Hhepunkt expressionistischer Graphik, in: Magdalena M. Moeller & Javier Arnaldo, Brücke - Die Geburt des deutschen Expressionismus , Brücke-Museum, Berlin (exh. cat.), 2005-06, p. 79-86.
Deborah Wye, Kirchner and the Berlin Street, Museum of Modern Art, New York (exh. cat.), 2008 (another impression illustrated, p. 87).

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Lot Essay

The Berlin street scenes, both paintings and prints, created in a period of frantic activity between 1913 and 1915, arguably form Kirchner's most important and coherent body of work. The present woodcut Fünf Kokotten - together with its companion piece Frauen am Potsdamer Platz (D. 239) and closely related to the earliest painted street scene, Fünf Frauen auf der Strasse of 1913 (Museum Ludwig, Cologne) - is the greatest realisation of the theme in the print medium.

Rather than cityscapes or portrayals of certain topographical situations, the street scenes are variations of a single subject, that of prostitutes walking the streets at night (with the occasional prospective customer on the prowl in the background). In Fünf Kokotten, the women are identified as prostitutes by their extravagantly feathered hats - the tell-tale accoutrement of the profession in Berlin at the time. They stand huddled together on a round-about, a passing car is just hinted at by a wheel in the lower right. Their figures are strangely elongated, in an almost mannerist fashion, an effect which adds to the artifice of their appearance. Despite their physical proximity, they seem disconnected from each other and on their own.

Women and sex had always been a subject of great fascination and inspiration to Kirchner. Yet while his earlier explorations of the theme had been concerned, in an almost utopian sense, with the free expression of intimacy and sexuality, his street scenes look at the darker side of sex. His unashamedly erotic nudes and bathers of the early years - and those of his fellow Brücke-artists Heckel, Mueller and Schmidt-Rottluff (see lots 31, 66 and 115) - celebrate the body and were acts of liberation from the repressions of Wilhelmine prudery. The Fünf Kokotten by contrast lack any sense of the erotic. Nor is Kirchner really interested in depicting the reality of prostitution as such, or in the individual fate or character of the women; rather the dressed-up whores have become emblems of the isolation and estrangement of the individual in the big city.

By 1913, Kirchner had moved to Berlin, the companionship of the Brücke-group had fallen apart, and the paradise of the Moritzburg Lakes, where he and his artist-friends and girlfriends had spent their summers - bathing, drawing, painting and making love - was lost. Looking back, Kirchner noted in his diary on 24 August 1919 under the heading Meine Strassenbilder ('My Street Scenes') that: They originated in the years 1911-14, in one of the loneliest times of my life, during which an agonizing restlessness drove me out into the streets day and night, which were filled with people and cars. (Quoted in: Moeller, p. 84; English translation in: Wye, p. 29).

We are grateful to Professor Dr. Günther Gercken, Lütjensee, Germany, for his assistance in cataloguing this lot. Professor Gercken is currently preparing the new catalogue raisonné of prints by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Gercken records a total of 14 impressions of this woodcut, including three in public collections (Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main; Hamburger Kunsthalle - Kupferstichkabinett, Hamburg; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.).

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