This is one of Kirchner’s first carved and painted wooden sculptures. He preferred to leave the surface raw and unfinished. Here we see every mark made by his carving tool. Touches of paint highlight the model’s body. She seems somewhat uncomfortable in her nudity. Looking downward rather demurely, perhaps implying a flirtation – between artist and model. Her stance is that of the “Venus Pudica,” literally a modest Venus, a classical figural pose in Western art in which an unclothed female shields her body.

Kirchner took up sculpture in 1909, the year he began this piece. He believed the discipline would improve his painting and add to his understanding of the human figure. He even hung a full-length mirror in his studio so he could view his models from all angles simultaneously. Kirchner was trained as an architect, and he titled his work Standing Girl, Caryatid. Its pose, base and flattened head recall caryatids, sculpted female figures that function as columns in classical buildings.

In a letter to Gustav Schiefler, the first owner of this piece, Kirchner wrote, “It is so good for painting and drawing to carve figures. It gives drawing more determination, and it is a sensual pleasure, when blow by blow the figure grows out of the tree trunk. In every trunk a figure is to be found, you only need to pare away the wood.”

Kirchner created a quasi-primitive world in his untidy studio, printing batik curtains and painting his walls with murals inspired by Indian cave paintings and Polynesian art. He and his avant-garde colleagues studied African and Oceanic art at the Dresden Museum of Ethnology. They found inspiration in these so-called “primitive” works, admiring their exaggerated features, rough-hewn surfaces, and frank approach to nudity.

The bohemian atmosphere in his studio was enhanced by Kirchner’s growing collection of African art, including a carved leopard stool from Cameroon, and other African sculpture and textiles. These were supplemented by several of his own figures, including this one. Few examples of such expressionist sculpture survive. Most were destroyed by the Nazis who targeted them as “degenerate art.”


  • Title: Standing Girl, Caryatid
  • Creator: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
  • Creator Nationality: German
  • Date Created: 1909/1910
  • Physical Dimensions: Ht. 43.5 cm (17 1/8 in.)
  • Provenance: Gustav and Luise Schiefler, Hamburg, gift from the artist, 1913; Private Collection, Germany, by descent; Christie's, London, “German and Austrian Art,” lot 23, June 20, 2006; Neue Galerie New York and Private Collection, acquired at the above sale, June 20, 2006
  • Medium: Carved and painted wood
  • Art Movement: Expressionist

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