From the inception of the Brcke movement in 1905, the young artists who had met at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden were obsessed by paint surface. The four students, Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff, Bleyl and Heckel, were essentially self-taught. Their painting relied more on instinct than artistic training. Essentially much of their work between 1905 and 1909 was extremely experimental. Their obsession with paint surface was much inspired by exhibitions of Van Gogh's work held in Dresden where they had set up their bohemian studio. In 1905 Galerie Arnhold held an exhibition of fifty works by Van Gogh, and in 1908 one hundred Van Goghs were shown at Richter's salon which was also in Dresden.
In the summer of 1909 Heckel travelled to Italy and brought back with him a technique which allowed for an even more expressive and free painting style. Heckel encouraged Kirchner and Schmidt-Rottluff to thin their pigments with enormous quantities of turpentine. Heckel returned from Italy in June and a month later, in July 1909, he accompanied Kirchner to the Moritzburg lakes where they executed several beautiful nude studies using this new painting method. The summer was famously hot and beautiful, Kirchner was in high spirits, and both the light of this summer and his exhuberance are reflected in the extremely free painting style and radiant colours of this tremendously exciting pictures painted in Moritzburg at this time. Zwei nackte Frauen im Wald perfectly illustrates the principle of Ekstase des ersten Sehens which the Brcke painters aspired to: the ability to capture in paint the beauty and spirit of a fleeting moment.
It is understood that Marcella and Frnzi, amongst Kirchner's most celebrated models, began to work with him in the summer of 1909 although it is not certain whether he took the two young orphan girls to Moritzburg with him. Judging by the age of the models in the present picture, it would seem unlikely that the two posed for him in this instance. What does seem clear, however, is that these are the same girls he used in his wonderful Im See badende Mdchen, Moritzburg (G. 86), which was also in Kirchner's Estate, and perhaps in Zwei rosa Akte am See (G. 89, fig. 1), now in the Merzbacher Collection.
Many commentators have suggested that in 1909 Kirchner's paintings come closest to the work of the French fauve artists. They certainly reveal a freeing-up of colour synonymous with fauvism, but this is where the similarity already ends. For the Brcke painters, the freeing-up of line and colour was about self-expression rather than decoration or experiments with colour theories. Kirchner was also very interested in developing appropriate linear and planar abbreviations for forms in nature which he achieves so skilfully in the present work. We are only a step away from the dynamic Berlin interiors and street-scenes executed from 1912 onwards (see lots 69 and 112).
Zwei nackte Frauen im Wald was exhibited in the celebrated Fauves and Expressionists exhibition organised by Leonard Hutton at his galleries in New York in 1968. The exhibition was one of the first held in America to highlight the relationship between French and German painting. It formed part of the Pasvolsky Collection which included several French twentieth century paintings by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Fernand Lger as well as works by the leading Impressionists. Since then the present work has not been in public exhibition for thirty years.
We are grateful to Professor Gerd Presler for his contribution to this catalogue entry.