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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, "Street, Berlin"

Walk the streets of 1913 Berlin with the Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. To learn about other great moments in modern art, take our online course, Modern Art, 1880-1945. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

(individual keyboard notes played calmly) - I'm in MoMA's storage with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's The Street Berlin painted in 1913. Kirchner had moved to Berlin a couple of years earlier with other members of the expressionist painter group, Die Brücke, but by 1913 many of them had left and he was there in the city on his own. This is one of a number of street scenes he painted all characterized as this work is by this vivid anti-naturalistic color. These spilling perspectives and this very very visible brush stroke. All hallmarks of expressionist painting. You instantly recognize that Kirchner's subject is not the city per se, instead his true subject is the psychological experience of an individual in this very large, overcrowded urban metropolis. At this point, Berlin was the third largest city in the world, and Kirchner clearly is responding to that in the way that he structures this composition. The figures in the very center are two prostitutes who for him embodied not only glamour and alienation, but the sad reality of a culture in which everything was for sale. You see them surrounded by this relatively faceless anonymous mask right of these black garbed suited men. None of whom engage them directly. These are symbolic representations of a form of urban angst that is made all the more dramatic by the way that he tilts and spills this composition out toward us. The effect is claustrophobic, I think, for us as a viewer and is reminiscent of what it must have been like for Kirchner to experience the streets of Berlin in 1913. (individual keyboard notes played calmly)