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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

German, 1880–1938

Frauenbildnis (Portrait of a Woman), 1911

Oil on canvas
46 3/8 x 34 5/8 inches (117.8 x 87.9 cm)
General Purchase Funds, 1957

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was one of the founding members of Die Brücke, (The Bridge), a group of young German artists in Dresden, Germany, active from 1905 to 1913. The members of Die Brücke had an ambitious goal based on a new view of culture. Their name was supposedly inspired by the writings of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who put forward the idea that contemporary humans might serve as a bridge to a future, more evolved humanity. The group believed that art, too, was a revolutionary bridge between the present and the future. Portrait of a Woman may or may not have been painted in 1911, since, later, Kirchner and his wife Erna Schiller often added inaccurate dates to earlier works. The identity of the stylishly dressed woman is unknown, and the setting is somewhat ambiguous. There is a table with a blue cloth, vase, and flowers; a red chair; and a mural-like backdrop with nude figures in a landscape reminiscent of the work of Henri Matisse, who was an early influence on Kirchner. The letters and numbers on the backdrop are an estate stamp, and not part of the original work. In 1925, Kirchner painted a landscape on the reverse side; since traditionally a later painting would be considered more important, Kirchner’s estate stamped the older, would-be verso, which is now considered to be the more significant of the two.

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