Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Bathers at Moritzburg


Not on display

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880–1938
Original title
Badende Moritzburg
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1511 × 1997 mm
frame: 1760 × 2262 × 71 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

From 1909 to 1911 Kirchner and other members of the Brücke group spent part of each summer at the Moritzburg Lakes near Dresden. Their relaxed, communal lifestyle and nude bathing reflected a cult of nature that was growing in Germany at the time. The exaggerated colours in this painting, contrasting yellow-orange flesh with blue water, emphasise the nudity of the figures. The original effect, however, may have been too extreme, as Kirchner repainted parts of the picture in 1926, making the colours lighter and the surface of the painting more even.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘E.L. Kirchner/08’ bottom right and ‘E.L. Kirchner 08/Badende

Moritzburg’ and ‘Ölgemälde/Dresden-A/Berlinerstr [asse] 60’ on back of canvas
Oil on canvas, 59 1/2 × 78 5/8 (151 × 199.7)
Purchased from Roman Norbert Ketterer (Grant-in-Aid) 1980

Prov: The Kirchner Estate
Exh: Frühjahrs-Ausstellung, Preussische Akademie der Künste, Berlin, May–June 1929 (114a, as ‘Nackte Menschen am Waldsee’); Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Kunsthalle, Berne, March–April 1933 (14); Das Werk Ernst Ludwig Kirchners, Galerie Roman Norbert Ketterer, Campione d'Italia, Lugano, spring 1980 (5, colour)
Lit: Der Cicerone, XII, 1929, p.356; Donald E.Gordon, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1968, no.93, p.279 (repr.), and p.64; Eberhard W.Kornfeld, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Nachzeichnung seines Lebens, Berne 1979, p.25; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 1880–1938 (exh. catalogue), Nationalgalerie, Berlin, November 1979–January 1980 and tour to Munich, Cologne and Zurich, p.97
Repr: The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Biennial Report 1980–82, 1983, p.38 in colour

From 1909 to 1911, Kirchner and Heckel spent part of each summer at the Moritzburg lakes near Dresden, accompanied by various female friends and models. In 1910 they were also joined by Pechstein. Nude bathing and a relaxed, communal lifestyle provided the subject matter for several paintings and drawings by Kirchner, of which the Tate's picture is the largest.

'Bathers at Moritzburg’ almost certainly dates from the first summer visit. Dr Lucius Grisebach of the Nationalgalerie, Berlin writes (letter to the compiler, 13 December 1982): 'In my opinion the work belongs to the year 1909. It has an extremely close connection with figure paintings of this period, in the bodily postures as well as in the manner of painting, i.e. the relationship of surface to outline. Compare, for example, in the 1979–80 Kirchner centenary catalogue [op.cit.]:

drawings nos. 59 and 60
painting no.75 (before overpainting)
sculpture no.63

'Date of overpainting

'Gordon [op.cit.] distinguishes on stylistic grounds between overpainting in 1920 and overpainting after 1925, for which he usually writes 1926. Typical of the post-1925 overpainting are a more pronounced flatness; the tendency to paint all forms in uniform, undifferentiated patches; and the “ice cream” character of the colours. Kirchner mixed his colours with white much more than before 1925, which gives them a milky character recalling ice cream. The reworking of this picture relates to the new paintings of female bathers in the open air which Kirchner painted in the second half of the twenties, comparable also to photographs of naked women at the water's edge which he took at that time.

'Date of the frame

'I know from information given by my father [whose own father had been a friend and supporter of Kirchner's] that there was a certain carpenter in Davos in the twenties and thirties, who made frames for Kirchner. They were always the same flat, scarcely moulded wooden frames, which Kirchner would then paint in bronze colours, usually with a green tone. I cannot say when Kirchner first used this frame in Davos. Until now no one has researched this systematically. I have a superficial impression that he could not have used this type of frame before 1924–5, but I have no precise evidence.

'The figure of the man at the left-hand edge of the painting recalls a corresponding figure in the large picture “Bathers in a Room” 1909/20, now in Saarbrücken (Kirchner centenary catalogue no.75). By overpainting it Kirchner has made the figure entirely remote.

'It's certainly possible to recognise the artist in the figure [in the Tate's picture], not really in the sense of a portrait but as a link between the spectator and the motif itself.

'In the circle of German Brücke scholars there is a fashion for identifying particular people in the paintings. I have no time for this. It could well be that the two girls, Marzella and Fränzi [teenage daughters of an artist's widow from Dresden, whom the Brücke painters used as models] also appear in “Bathers at Moritzburg”. In the present repainted state of the picture they are certainly no longer recognisable, and it is not in the spirit of Kirchner's painting that one should look for them there.’

A poor photocopy of a black and white print of T03067 in its earlier state is in the Tate Gallery's conservation records. The most significant changes occur in the two standing figures in front of the tree at the left of the painting, one male (discussed by Grisebach above), the other female engaged in removing her white petticoat. The male figure originally had his back turned to the spectator and was also apparently undressing, his head inclined to the lady at his side, who faced the spectator but with her head bent likewise towards her male companion. The squatting figure beneath them in the final state is a later addition which obscures the lower half of the man's body. Kirchner has also painted out the face of the lady in the white petticoat, both of whose black-stockinged legs were visible in the original version

A conservation report on the picture confirms ‘extensive later repainting ... nearly all the yellow ochres, pinks, dark reds, darker blues and darker greens’.

After its spring exhibition in Berlin in 1929, the Prussian Academy, whose President at the time was Max Liebermann, awarded ‘Bathers at Moritzburg’ a prize of 1000 marks. Part of a letter from Kirchner expressing his delight at the news is printed in the centenary exhibition catalogue (op.cit.). The address inscribed on the back of the painting is that of Kirchner's studio at Dresden, which he occupied from September 1906 until his departure for Berlin in October 1911.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984


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