1912 was a crucial year for Kirchner. He had finally left his Brcke roots in Dresden where he had had a studio since 1905. In the autumn of 1911 he took up permanent residence in Berlin in a studio in the same block as Pechstein, in Durlacherstrasse. As soon as he arrived in the city he met Erna Schilling (1884-1945) who was not only to become the muse of his Berlin years but became his lover and stayed with him until his suicide in June 1938. Erna appears in countless celebrated works of the period and even encouraged her sister Gerda to sit for Kirchner (see lot 69). Kirchner and Pechstein encouraged both sisters to be active models in the new painting academy which they had decided to establish in Berlin, to which they gave the grand title M.U.I.M. Insitut, standing for The Institute of Modern Painting Instruction.
The Berlin studio pictures of 1912 are unquestionably as dynamic and challenging as his celebrated street-scenes of this period. Here, as in the city scapes, Kirchner's interest is in the destruction of perspective, the use of sweeping arc-formed lines and of explosive angular brushwork.
During this period Kirchner was also very interested in idealising the female form and there exist countless drawings and major prints (notably Der Besuch der Freundin, 1912 [Dube L. 206]) to accompany the studio studies of 1912. The most impressive of them are based on the female nude bathing (see fig. 3), a theme which had been so extensively explored by Degas. There also exists in these pictures a strong element of tribalism which emanates from Kirchner's Dresden period where he had become fascinated by the many native artefacts in the Ethnographical Museum in the city. These had led him to execute numerous female wooden sculptures which bear a striking similarity to his 1912 and 1913 nudes in oil.
Another very interesting element of the present painting is the decoration of Kirchner's studio, seen behind Erna. The table-cloth is decorated with stencilled native figures and in the very background stands one of Kirchner's carvings which may well date from the Dresden period. The decoration of Kirchner's bohemian studio (see fig. 2) is an essential element of all of the interiors from this date. The studio/apartment was decorated throughout in this manner and much of the sewing work had been done by Erna and her sister Gerda.
The present work is particularly interesting because it features major oils on both sides of the canvas. On the other side of the 1912 work is a remarkable work of 1909 executed in the brilliant tones and with the fluent brushwork so characteristic of Kirchner's best work of the Dresden period. Although much drier in execution, it has all the spontaneous qualities of the expressive oils Kirchner executed in Moritzburg in the summer of the same year (see Zwei nackte Frauen im Wald, lot 58).
Professor Presler suggests that the model in the current picture could well be Dodo, whom Kirchner regularly painted in 1909. As evidence of this, Professor Presler draws our attention to a stylistically similar work depicting Dodo entitled Sitzender Akt auf orangenem Tuch (G. 129v). There exist a huge number of wonderful colour drawings and pastels of Dodo, executed in the same high key colours. This palette is the trademark of Kirchner's late Dresden years (see figs. 4 & 5). He particularly enjoyed painting Dodo against the bright rugs and drapes in his studio and was fascinated by the lines of her curvaceous body which so perfectly suited his painting style of the period. Looking back at his Dresden years after moving to Berlin in 1911, he wrote, "Heute war die Sehnsucht nach dem Teppich so gro, ... nun liege ich darin. Wie schn er ist. Welche ferne Kaukasierin wird ihr Leben hineingewirkt haven, wie Du Dodo mit Deinen fleissigen Hnden. Still und fein und so weiss schn. Deine freie Liebeslust, mit Dir erlebte ich sie ganz, fast zur Gefahr meiner Bestimmung. Doch Du gabst mir die Kraft zur Sprache ber Deine Schnheit im reinsten Bilde eines Weibes, gegen die die Cranachsche Venus eine alte Voze ist. Ich weiss, dass Du manchmal an mich denkst, Glck und Qual haben wir beide gehabt ... fhre mich Kaukasierin mit Deiner Liebe und Geduld und Deinen feinen Farben immer" (G. Presler, E. L. Kirchner, Seine Frauen, Seine Modelle, Seine Bilder, Munich, 1998, p. 19).
In many of the nude studies of 1908 and 1909 Kirchner seems to have been interested in placing his models within a confined space in his canvases. The nudes are painted large and seem to push out of the confines of the canvas or even to appear almost uncomfortable in the space which the canvas allows. This is particularly prevalent in a closely related oil of 1909 now in the Kunsthalle Bremen entitled Liegender Akt mit Fcher (G. 58) as well as several other studio pictures of the same date (c.f. G. 50, 51 and 57). These are early stages in Kirchner's experiments with perspective which were to reach such dramatic fruition in his Berlin period pictures, the oil on the other side of this canvas being a perfect example.
Until recently Weiblicher Akt [Lesend] had remained largely concealed by a later stretcher. Now seen in a double-sided frame, Christie's pre-sale exhibition marks the first time that it has been shown in its full glory.
Fritz Gurlitt was the first Berlin dealer to exhibit work by the Brcke artists. An exhibition in early 1911 was followed by a large exhibition in the spring of 1912. This show, at a well-known modern Berlin gallery, finally brought the Brcke painters into the limelight. The present painting was first exhibited alongside twelve other works by Kirchner at Gurlitt's gallery in November 1913 (see installation photograph, fig. 1).
We are grateful to Professor Gerd Presler for his contribution to this catalogue entry.