Artwork of the month August

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Kniende, nach links gewandter Kopf, rechte Hand auf der linken Brust, 1912

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

* 1880 in Aschaffenburg, Germany, † 1938 in Frauenkirch/Davos, Switzerland

Kniende, nach links gewandter Kopf, rechte Hand auf der linken Brust, 1912

Wood (Swiss stone pine)
21.6 x 9 x 6 cm
Hilti Art Foundation

Some 80 of the 140 sculptures definitively attributed to Kirchner have survived. With few exceptions, they are made of wood and carved directly out of the tree trunk. Forty of these sculptures, showing active and often unusual poses, were made while Kirchner was living in Berlin. In his own words, they make no reference to antiquity. This includes the small, kneeling woman of 1912.

The small, unquestionably regal figure with the aloof gaze of a Sphinx is reminiscent of Egyptian statuettes and commands respect. The uneven, convoluted arrangement of her arms and legs yields completely different views of this squatting figure. She may, for instance, appear to be in movement or at rest, one of many impressions inspired by the artist's study of nature and, as he himself wrote in retrospect, by his "experience of the figures of contemporary life". Transposing that experience into art led to what Kirchner termed a hieroglyph.

In addition to the vibrancy and lifelike intimacy expressed by the Kniende (Woman Kneeling, Head Facing Left, Right Hand on Left Breast), one can identify diverse references to art history, as in many of Kirchner's works. While the tribal art of Africa reverberates in the choice of material and the kneeling pose—Kirchner's interest in the sculpture of Cameroon is well documented—the inspiration of French nineteenth-century painting is also unmistakable, for instance, Delacroix's Women of Algiers, Degas's paintings of women bathing, or Gauguin's squatting women in his paintings of the South Seas. The conspicuously asymmetric position of the legs does not typically feature in African tribal art but is occasionally seen in works by the above-mentioned painters, referring in turn to forms of life outside of Europe. However, the right hand of the "Kniende", resting on her left breast, echoes the traditional gesture of a Venus pudica, a chaste Venus covering her breasts and private parts. Revealing and concealing, seducing and rebuffing: these are ancient modes of female existence.

Angela Schneider

<b>Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Kniende, nach links gewandter Kopf, rechte Hand auf der linken Brust, 1912</b>
Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein highlights a work from the permanent collection each month throughout the year. Works from the collection of the Hilti Art Foundation are also included in this series on a regular basis.