Illustrated companion

In the first years of the Br?cke group's existence its members painted in their studios in Dresden, from imagination or the model. But from 1907 they began to spend time regularly painting in the countryside, both as a group and on their own. This development is of particular significance in the light of the cult of nature which was growing in Germany at this time, manifesting itself through the Wanderv?gel, a national organisation which encouraged communal hikes and camping, and the nudist movement. This almost mystical new relationship with nature seems to have been epitomised for the Br?cke artists by being naked in the landscape, and figure compositions such as this one form an important part of early Br?cke painting. It arose from visits made by Kirchner and other members of the group, together with various female friends and models, to the Moritzburg lakes near Dresden. There, nude bathing and a relaxed communal lifestyle provided the subject matter for several paintings and drawings by Kirchner, of which this is the largest. Overall, 'Bathers at Moritzburg' is clearly related to the type of vision of a primitive paradise developed by Gauguin in the South Seas. However, the Br?cke artists were not much interested in the timeless and exotic and Kirchner's picture has a clearly contemporary feel.

Kirchner repainted parts of the picture in 1926, the main effect of which, apart from some alterations and additions to the figures, was to make the colours lighter and more uniform in application. They still, however, have a typical Expressionist vibrancy and even harshness which, taken with the general atmosphere of sexual frankness and, for example, the uninhibited posture of the woman squatting by the lakeside, make this a painting of considerable force.

The male figure on the left, with one hand on the tree, appears to be a slightly detached observer of the group, and is at the focal point of the two lines of figures running from the water up to the tree and across the foreground. According to the Kirchner authority Dr Lucius Grisebach, 'It's certainly possible to recognise the artist in the figure, not really in the sense of a portrait but as a link between the spectator and the motif itself.' The frame was almost certainly designed by Kirchner and is of a type he consistently used, made of flat wood painted in bronze colours usually with a green tone.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.123