When the Brücke member Ernst Ludwig Kirchner moved from Dresden to Berlin in 1911, life in the modern metropolis became one of the central topics in his works. Today they rank among the highlights of his artistic oeuvre. This pastel of a Berlin street scene belongs in the conceptual context of many of the paintings, drawings and prints in which Kirchner took as his subject the bustle on the streets and squares of the capital and in each case made use of the special features of the technique in question.
The foreground of the scene is dominated by an arrangement of three elongated figures, who take up the entire height of the picture surface. With dynamic, rapid strokes, the artist has characterised a man dressed in a coat and hat and two fashionably dressed women. The women's outfits, the feather hats, the costume with the overlarge collar, and the high-heeled shoes are immediately eye-catching. The way they are posing and their mask-like faces - highlighted in a garish, pale blue and alertly registering their surroundings - make it clear that they are prostitutes. The scene derives its aggressive character from the jagged forms ending in acute angles and the dominant colours: black, the turquoise of the costume, the purple of the punter's hat and trousers, but above all from the sulphur-yellow light that surrounds them. A suggestive aspect is provided behind the right-hand figure by the phalanx of extended male legs running parallel to each other as they descend into the depths of an otherwise undefined space - a feature that recurs in the painting 'Friedrichstraße' (1914, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart). The energetically charged tension is, however, immediately converted into the powerful execution and intensity of the pastel colours in the drawing. The artist's gaze at the challenging eroticism of big-city civilisation is considerably different from the natural sensuousness of the works he created in Dresden and on Fehmarn. A drawing such as his 'Berlin Street Scene' colours our impression of the mood in the German metropolis on the eve of the First World War.
The Brücke artists' association disbanded in 1913 and Kirchner's involvement with the magazine 'Der Sturm' would take him to the centre of the Expressionist movement. This pastel belonged at one time to the collector Carl Hagemann, who maintained a friendly relationship with the artist until he died. It is thanks to the "Bequest of Dr. Carl Hagemann" that the Collection of Prints and Drawings has in its possession one of the most important collections of Expressionist art.
The important collection of Expressionist art owned by the chemist Carl Hagemann (1867-1940) was formed from the beginning of the twentieth century in close exchange with the artists - even during the period when they were being vilified by the National Socialists. After Hagemann's death in 1940, his collection was secretly removed into storage to escape the war, together with the Städel's own collection. In gratitude for this hazardous but successful effort, Hagemann's heirs presented 935 works on paper to the Städel during the 1940s. Further generous donations were made over the course of several decades.