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Christie's New York evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on November 8 will offer Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 1913 Strassenszene, Berlin, (Street Scene, Berlin). The painting was restituted by the Br cke-Museum in Berlin to the heirs of Alfred and Thekla Hess last July. The only way for the heirs to share in it was to sell it. They expect to realize in excess of $18-$25m.
Andreas Rumbler, head of Christie's Germany, claims that the Kirchner is the most significant German Expressionist picture ever to come to auction.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 - 1938) was the leading member of Die Br cke or The Bridge, a group of young German expressionists inspired by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, from whose notion of man as 'bridge' to a higher realm of being they took their name. The Br cke artists were influenced by diverse sources: Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Henri Matisse and the primitive arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands.
Kirchner mastered woodcuts and architectural drawing before turning to painting and sculpture. In Munich in 1903 he began to use bold colors reminiscent of Gauguin and brushstrokes like those of Van Gogh. A soldier in 1915, Kirchner suffered a nervous breakdown from which he never recovered and spent years fighting depression.
The works for which Kirchner is most noted are those that predate his war service and which culminated in the series of 11 similar paintings of the erotic street life of Berlin to which Strassenszene, Berlin belongs. Known at the time as Die Hure Babylon, (The Whore of Babylon), Berlin - then the fastest growing city in the world - was also the only city in Europe where prostitutes legally solicited on the street. Kirchner depicted the scenes of men and women all in much the same way, seen slightly from above. The red dress of one of the women in the Christie's lot is enough to indicate her profession.
Kirchner's fragile mental state could not deal with his inclusion in the 1937 Nazi exhibition of so-called "degenerate art" and the ensuing destruction of nearly 600 of his works. In 1938 he committed suicide.