Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) was one of the founding members of the German Expressionist group known as Die Brücke, a bohemian group of artists established in Dresden in 1905. Like his fellow Expressionists, Kirchner rejected academic art. Instead, he wanted to create a raw style and sought to emulate the art of the South Seas and Africa. Kirchner was also attracted to the art of Paul Gauguin and the Fauves, adopting their brilliant palette and unrefined finish.
During his time in Dresden, Kirchner would sometimes holiday on the island of Fehmarn, in the Baltic Sea off the east coast of Germany. After his move to Berlin, Kirchner regularly spent his summers there in the years between 1912 and 1914, with his fellow artists Ernst Heckel and Max Pechstein and their partners. Kirchner complained that the inhabitants of the island were ‘inbred’, but he loved the ‘meaty’, rich and exotic foliage and enjoyed the long northern European summer days with their shorter nights. Inspired by this location, Kirchner began creating landscapes—at first without figures, then later in compositions of a bucolic fantasy world in which he depicted nude figures among the trees and flowers of strange, dense forests and in the waves of the wild oceans.
For Bathing scene, Fehmarn, under overhanging trees, Kirchner shows himself clothed and smoking a pipe among a group of naked women, including his lifetime partner the dancer Erna Schilling. This rare woodcut is a richly textured image, which highlights Kirchner’s rough carving technique. Made in 1913, it represents the bucolic, poetic and lyrical side of German Expressionism—a counter to the foreboding and angst often found in this style.
Senior Curator, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books
in artonview, issue 66, winter 2011