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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)

Zwei Akte auf blauem Sofa

Details
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
Zwei Akte auf blauem Sofa
signed 'E L. Kirchner.' (lower right); stamped and numbered Nachlass EL Kirchner Dre/Bg6 (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
19¾ x 27¾in. (50.2 x 70.5cm.)
Painted in 1910 and retouched in 1920 according to Gordon
Provenance
The Artist's Estate.
Anon. sale, Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett, Stuttgart, 29 May 1956, lot 505. Walter Bareiss, Greenwich.
Billy Wilder, Los Angeles.
His sale, Christie's New York, 13 November 1989, lot 22, $1,400,000 (record at auction for the Artist at the time).
Literature
L.-G. Buchheim, Die Künstlergemeinschaft Brücke, 1956, no. 138 (illustrated in colour, p. 153; dated 1905).
E. Hoffman, 'Expressionism: Not a German but International Style', in Art News, vol. LVI, no. 4, 1957, p. 39 (illustrated in colour).
B. Dorival, 'L'Art de la Brücke et le fauvisme', Art de France, vol. 1, 1961, p. 385.
J.-E. Muller, Fauvism, Paris, 1967, p. 170 (illustrated in colour p. 185).
D. E. Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, 1968, no. 155 (illustrated p. 288).
M. N. Carter, 'Great Private Collections: The Obsessions of Billy Wilder', Saturday Review, December 1980, p. 60 (illustrated in colour, p. 61).
P. Viladas, 'A Life in Pictures', House & Garden, April 1989, (illustrated in colour, p. 154).
Exhibited
Santa Barbara, The Art Gallery, Universitiy of California, Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Billy Wilder, October-November 1966, no. 24.
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880-1938, November 1979-January 1980, no. 73 (illustrated in colour, p. 134). This exhibition later travelled to Munich, Haus der Kunst, February-April 1980; Cologne, Museum Ludwig, April-June 1980; Zurich, Kunsthaus, June-August 1980.
Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, March-July 2000, no. 17 (illustrated in colour p. 49).
Special Notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price plus buyer's premium.
Sale Room Notice
Please note that the present work is listed in the artist's Handlist from 1916, where it is titled "Liegender und sitzender Akt gegen blau". We are grateful to Dr Gerd Presler for his assistance.

Lot Essay

Formerly in the Billy Wilder collection, Zwei Akte auf blauem Sofa ("Two nudes on a blue sofa" ) is a vibrant and striking interior scene executed in 1910 during a period in which the art of the Die Brücke artists first began to assert a clear and unique identity of its own. Depicting two nude women reclining on a sofa in Kirchner's exotically decorated Dresden studio, Zwei Akte auf blauem Sofa is a classic example of Die Brücke art, aims and aesthetic. A bold and erotically charged interior whose intensity has been heightened by a liberal use of brilliant colour and the inclusion of many of the primitive artifacts that adorned the artist's studio, this painting is a work that loudly proclaims the Brücke's belief in and call for an alternative and more vital way of living to the bourgeois norm.

From the decoration depicted in this painting it is possible to date the work as having been executed in the autumn of the year shortly after Kirchner, Heckel and Pechstein's summer sojourn together at the Moritzburg lakes. The Die Brücke's working holidays in the woods around the lakes of Moritzburg were of vital importance in the forging of a group identity. They allowed the artists to commune with both nature and each other in an atmosphere of freedom and in an environment that encouraged a shared sense of purpose. It was primarily there, isolated from the modern world and in natural surroundings, that they could evoke the Nietzschean spirit of vitalism and indulge in the alternative bohemian lifestyle outside of society that the artists both advocated and sought for themselves.

Similarly, like Moritzburg, the Die Brücke artists' studios - which each artist studiously decorated and adorned with exotic and primitive motifs and designs - also represented an alternative environment to that of everyday modern Dresden. An enclosed environment in which they could indulge their atavistic desires for a more direct, real and primitive lifestyle that was in accordance with the natural world.

As Gustav Schiefler has described, Kirchner's decoration of his studio on the Berlinerstrasse in 1910 was particularly memorable. 'Out of necessity he had rented a remarkable studio in a Dresden suburb, a narrow shop which had a large glass window to the street and a small adjacent space that served as a bedroom. These rooms were fantastically decorated with coloured textiles which he had made using the batik technique; with all sorts of exotic equipment and wood carvings by his own hand. A primitive setting, born of necessity but nevertheless strongly marked by his own taste. He lived a disorderly lifestyle here according to bourgeois standards, simple in material terms, but highly ambitious in his artistic sensitivity. He worked feverishly, without noticing the time of day.... everyone that comes into contact with him, must respond with strong interest to this total commitment to his work and derive from it a concept of the true artist.' (Gustav Schiefler cited in Postkarten an Gustav Schiefler, ed. Gustav Schack, Hamburg, 1976, p.80.)

In addition to the many primitive artifacts hand-made by Kirchner, there were a few genuine works of primitive art included in their decorations. Indeed, the textile design displayed in Zwei Akte auf blauem Sofa is an African textile (now in the collection of the Brücke Museum in Berlin) which appears in other paintings by Kirchner and Heckel at this time, most notably in Heckel's striking portrait Hude. This textile depicting a frieze of antelope was among a number of genuine tribal artifacts that Heckel almost certainly received as presents from his brother Manfred, who was working as an engineer in German East Africa and who visited his brother in Dresden in the summer of 1910.

Textiles such as these and many other designs based on primitive art that they had seen on display at the Ethnographic museum in Dresden created an environment that enabled the Brücke artists to re-enact their sense of the primitive in the privacy of their own studios. To encourage a sense of communal purpose, Kirchner and Heckel would often work together in each other's studios, sharing models and practising quick 15-minute life drawings that aimed to capture a rawness, spontaneity and directness in their work - aesthetic qualities that they prized above all else.

In this way it was studio paintings like Zwei Akte auf blauem Sofa that established much of the identity of the Die Brücke style. Although originally inspired by the French Fauvists' use of bold non-naturalistic colour, the raw energy and sharp angularity of the Brücke artists' vivid and quickly executed brushwork along with their propagandising of primitive forms clearly distinguishes their work as a new and altogether more fierce style.

There are echoes of Matisse's work in Zwei Akte auf blauem Sofa but the swift dramatic brushwork which Kirchner returned to and strengthened in 1920, and the strong composition of the work that places the viewer in close proximity to the models, establish this paintings as being more forceful and direct than anything ever painted by the French masters. In addition, the painting's overt eroticism - with its two nudes boldly asserting their physical presence in a way that dominates the cramped colourful space of the studio - also clearly distinguishes this work. Both women stare directly at the viewer - one reclining on the sofa in a manner reminiscent of both Goya's 'Maja' and Manet's 'Olympia' - while the softness and the warmth of their flesh is emphasised by it being deliberately contrasted with the sharp angles and vibrant colours of their surroundings. Form and colour vye with one another for attention with the paint being smeared, daubed and allowed to bleed in places in order to conjure a sense of spontaneity and raw vitality. With each clashing mark, colour and form carefully orchestrated into a vivid and surprising compositional unity, Zwei Akte auf blauem Sofa is a work that eloquently captures both the essence of Kirchner's sensibilty and proclaims the aesthetic of the group who wished to establish a 'bridge' to a better way of life.
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