This work is listed in the Ernst Ludwig Kirchner archives, Wichtrach/Bern.
Gruppe Nackter Frauen is dated 1905, the same year that Kirchner, along with his fellow students Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, founded the Brücke movement in Dresden. United by a passionate desire to break free from bourgeois convention and stale artistic tradition, these artists sought to capture the raw essence and vitality of life with an intuitive and unadulterated directness and subjective spontaneity. Escaping from the bounds of industrialized, rationalized modern society, they sought a simpler, more primitive existence and a harmony between art and life. Painting with a new freedom of expression, they sought to render their subjective experiences, which Kirchner described as "free drawing of free human beings in free naturalness" (quoted in U. Lorenz and N. Wolf, eds., Brücke, Cologne, 2008, p. 8).
In the present work, four female figures stand free, unclothed, and unposed, in apparent ease and in harmony within their natural environment. While the Brücke artists worked intensely in their shared studios in Dresden, which they had painted and decorated with an array of exotic fabrics and objects, they also ventured, in the spirit of Paul Gauguin and his voyages to the South Sea, into the landscape surrounding the city. It was here that these men found the setting that best embodied their Expressionist pursuits. "The nudes in sunlight (either inside or outside a room)...show now an intensity of personal experience unheard of in the former generation. The shimmering colours around them form an overpowering frame for the vibrating mass of body. As always in Kirchner's compositions, the figures, although quite near to the spectator, are most naturally integrated in the surrounding space. We remember another of his marginal notes on a somewhat later drawing (not dated) of the sketchbook representing Bathing Girls on the Beach: 'Figures and nature must become one in the picture, all forms are subordinated to this law'" (W.R. Valentiner, E.L. Kirchner, German Expressionist, Raleigh, 1958, pp. 15-16).
Executed in bold lines of color, the present work suggests a vigorous and immediate response from the artist on both an emotional and aesthetic level to the scene before him. The languid, natural pose of the nudes, relaxed and enjoying their nakedness and surroundings, is something that clearly reinforces this sense of communal idyll. Such natural, unstaged body language was something that Kirchner always sought from his models, observing that it was “only at home” that he felt he “had complete freedom in [his] work” (Kirchner, quoted in L. Grisebach, Kirchner, Cologne, 1999, p. 38).