Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

It is only a few black contour lines on brownish paper that Ernst Ludwig Kirchner uses to approach his subject in this early pastel drawing – two female nudes sitting on a bed or sofa that cannot be further described or located. The fact that it must be a bed is clear only from the position in which the two nudes are depicted. Only one of them is completely unclothed. Kirchner positions her in the upper centre of the picture with her legs drawn up and her right arm propped up. The second person squats on the left edge of the picture, facing the viewer frontally. The upper half of her body is unclothed, while her legs seem to be covered by a yellow blanket – here too Kirchner plays with the ambiguity of the subjects. It is striking that the nudity of the two women is only revealed by the unpainted and therefore visible background. This omission of colour again contrasts sharply with the luminous tones with which Kirchner fills the rest of this work. He reinforces the contour lines of the women with bright orange, blue tending towards violet and a Bordeaux red. He fills the bed on which the two lie with a light blue, and the blanket already mentioned with a strong mustard yellow. These colours, which do not always harmonise with each other, stand alone. Kirchner makes this clear by not blurring them, but by placing the individual chalk strokes recognisably next to each other. Interestingly, this creates a depth and three-dimensionality, which in turn is in tension with the translucent paper. Both surface and depth, line and contrast are juxtaposed here in a delightful polarity.

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