Street at Schöneberg City Park (1912–13) by Ernst Ludwig KirchnerMilwaukee Art Museum
These buildings line a street in Berlin to which the artist, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, moved in 1911, a few years before he made this painting.
The buildings, however, do not actually look like this. Kirchner painted them using an exaggerated perspective, as if they were being reflected in a convex mirror, and they appear to swell.
Though there are people around, the street is wide and mostly empty, and there are no cars. In contrast to the energy of the brushwork and the boulevard, which races into the distance, the scene is empty. This discord can make the image unsettling.
The people in the street were created by brushstrokes that are thick and loose. Kirchner helped found the art group Die Brücke (“the bridge” in German), which used quick brushwork and semi-abstract shapes to make art that expressed emotions.
The lone woman at the center of the painting appears dwarfed and weighed down by the stark, ominous scene that towers around her. Her isolation and unease perhaps mirror the artist’s own emotional state.
Kirchner was conscripted for army service with the onset of World War I, a year after painting this work, but was soon discharged when he suffered a nervous breakdown. He continued making art and evolving the Expressionist style even through his struggles.
The leaves are without precise detail, yet we know they are leaves. An outline, a swoosh, a flat stroke—Kirchner’s mark making helped drive a movement that privileged emotions in creating artwork, which led to the founding of German Expressionism.
The extreme vanishing point (straight back) and the busy, diagonal brushstrokes lend a nervous feeling to the painting.
Kirchner painted many studies of city life when he moved to Berlin, and art historians believe that the energy of these works echoes the tense feeling of life in the years leading up to World War I.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Street at Schöneberg City Park, 1912–13
Oil on canvas
47 5/8 x 59 3/8 in. (120.97 x 150.81 cm)
framed: 56 1/8 × 68 × 3 in. (142.56 × 172.72 × 7.62 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley
Photographer credit: John R. Glembin