This work is listed in the Ernst Ludwig Kirchner archives, Wichtrach/Bern.
‘Our Dresden years were filled with free and fanatical work on the naked figure, either in a meagre studio (or store) or at the Moritzburg lakes. This constant work finally brought results and the solution, with new means, to the problem of representing naked figures, free in the great outdoors of Nature. In unbroken colours, blue, red, green and yellow, people’s bodies now glowed in the water or between the trees.’
(Kirchner, quoted in exh. cat., Die Badenden: Mensch und Natur im deutschen Expressionismus, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 2000, p. 46)
Focusing on a nude female figure kneeling on a meadow, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Mädchen mit erhobenen Armen offers a tantalising glimpse into the heady, free lifestyle enjoyed by the Brücke artists during their summer sojourns to the lakes of Moritzburg. Situated in the forests just northeast of Dresden, this small hamlet had become an artistic arcadia during the summers of 1909-1911, offering Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Max Pechstein an idyllic environment to escape to, away from the hectic life of the city. In this lush, verdant location the artists spent their days bathing and frolicking with their female companions in the open air, working directly alongside one another, painting the nude form in the natural world, and pushing their techniques to new levels of Expressionism.
Created during their first summer in Moritzburg, as the Brücke artists sought a return to a deliberately simple and consciously more primitive life, Mädchen mit erhobenen Armen is an early example of the seminal series of works that Kirchner was inspired to produce as a result of his experiences. Encapsulating the collective ideals and shared aesthetic that the Brücke artists developed at Moritzburg, it illustrates the idealised vision of man living freely and harmoniously within nature that Kirchner, Heckel and Pechstein sought to create along the secluded lakeshore.
Executed using flowing, sinuous brushstrokes and vibrant complementary colours, Mädchen mit erhobenen Armen illustrates the growing boldness of Kirchner’s technique at Moritzburg, and highlights his attempts to capture the essence of life with an unadulterated directness, driven by his own subjective, spontaneous intuition alone. Pursuing this ideal, Kirchner reduced draughtsmanship to a minimum in the present composition, outlining just the gentle curves of his model’s breasts, the edge of a shoulder or hip to delineate her body. The vivid colour palette, meanwhile, lends a powerful vitality to the composition, the rich interplay of green, orange and blue fusing the body with the surrounding landscape.
The emergence of such powerfully vibrant colour contrasts in Kirchner’s art at this time points to the influence of Henri Matisse, whom he had first encountered at the artist’s inaugural solo-exhibition in Germany, held in Berlin in the opening months of 1909. The Fauvist’s rejection of traditional tonal shading and perspective, and use of heightened, often unnatural and unmixed colour inspired Kirchner to push the boundaries of his own style to new extremes, and to use an increasingly striking colouristic vocabulary and loose, free brushwork to render his impressions of life at the Moritzburg lakes. In Mädchen mit erhobenen Armen, Kirchner’s simplification of form and the immediacy of his rendering of the scene demonstrate his clear determination to forge his own unique style in the avant-garde art scene.