In 1911 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner left Dresden, where he had studied architecture, to join other members of the Brcke in Berlin. The pace, modernity and wealth of the capital had a profound effect on the group, and none more so than Kirchner.
The reaction to his new environment is seen clearly in his Strassenszene, a theme which dominated his work in 1913-14, and which was expressed in paintings, drawings and prints. Whilst the modern metropolis had an exciting and exilerating veneer, it was essentially hectic and unnatural, and the man within it as helpless and alienated. The occupants of the streets, only details in his melancholic city-scapes of the year before, were now the main focus. Their existence is precarious and unstable, and very much a reflection of Kirchner's febrile mental state at the time; his call-up to the army shortly thereafter was to precipitate an emotional crisis from which he was to never completely recover.
Kirchner was fascinated with 'cocottes', the smart, elegant courtesans who paraded the avenues in the latest high fashions. The present work focuses on just such a figure. She stands alone at the centre of the image, isolated in a clear foreground contrasted with the densely worked scene behind. The strong left right diagonal which emphasises the forward motion of the participants also, importantly, links the subject with the figure to the left, a man who coolly appraises the woman before him. In a city of frenzied commercial and social activity, the relationship between the two protagonists is strongly hinted at. The diagonal concludes with a second woman entering the picture space from the right. Kirchner is careful not to disturb the isolation of the central figure and separates the two with dramatic vertical lines.
The staccato-like style owes something to the Italian Futurists who exhibited at the first German spring salon of 1913, but the speed of conception and fluid energy of the handling is typical of Kirchner at the height of his powers.
Since Kirchner hardly ever allowed anyone else to print his work, impressions are almost invariably of extreme rarity.