Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)

Nackte Tänzerinnen

Nackte Tänzerinnen
woodcut, 1909, on stiff wove card, signed and inscribed Eigendruck, a very good impression of the second state (of three), with much of the woodblock structure printing within the blank areas, and with considerable gaufrage visible verso, two un-inked oblique printer's creases at upper centre, presumably the full sheet, with margins above and below, printed to the edges of the sheet at left and right (as issued), in very good condition, framed
Block 360 x 555 mm., Sheet 415 x 555 mm.
Estate of the artist; on the reverse with the estate stamp of the Kunstmuseum Basel (Lugt 1570b), inscribed with the Schiefler number in black ink H 110 III.
Schiefler H 110; Dube H 140; Gercken 292

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Alice L'Estrange
Alice L'Estrange

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Lot Essay

Up until the end of 1908  Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s printed works still reflected the influence of the Jugendstil aesthetic, and tended towards a harmonious, almost ornamental, structuring of the picture plane.

By contrast, the early woodcuts of 1909 are characterised by a new rigour, a concentration on a few basic outlines, bodily features and shapes. This development culminated in Nackte Tänzerinnen, one of the boldest woodcuts in black and white of his entire oeuvre.

The print shows nude dancers on stage and was probably inspired by a visit to a Berlin cabaret. In 1908 Pechstein had moved there from Dresden and Kirchner came to Berlin more frequently.  He had always been inspired by female nudes and much of his early work is dominated by this theme. The print is hence not remarkable for its motif - the depiction of nudity or the public display of naked bodies in a night club - but for its formal qualities. The figures of the three dancers appear almost in a fish-eye perspective. The central figure is pushed all the way to the front of the image, almost literally 'into the face' of the viewer, her naked breasts and hat cut off by the image edge, thus evoking the tantalising proximity of the woman. The other two figures, one dancing with both arms and one leg raised, the other crouching on the stage floor, are placed in the far background. This is achieved by extreme foreshortening, while at the same time Kirchner makes no attempt to create the illusion of actual space or depth.

What makes Nackte Tänzerinnen so startling, however, is the enormous hat, which takes up nearly one third of the entire picture surface and completely dominates the composition. It was an artistic coup-de-foudre: never before and rarely ever after did Kirchner allow himself so daring a formal device.

Gercken records three impressions of the first state, the present, unique impression of the second state, and three impressions of the third, final state.

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