This painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) that Sotheby’s was selling on the 3rd of February 2009 — “Street Scene,” from 1913 — was last publicly seen at Sotheby’s London 11 years ago as part of a group of Fauve and German Expressionist works that were sold by Charles Tabachnick, a Toronto collector.
It is an oil on canvas measuring 70 by 51cm. (27 1/2 by 20in) and it fetched $3.3 million, a record price at the time. That buyer, whom Sotheby’s refused to identify, was selling the Berlin scene today in London and the auctioneer sold it off for 5.41 million GBP ($ 7.81 million) vs. an estimate ranging between 5 and 7 million GBP. A little disappointment for both the seller and the vendor.
Kirchner’s Berlin street scenes are among his most celebrated images. The artist, from Dresden, first visited Berlin in 1910 and moved there in 1911. From 1913 to 1915 he produced 11 street scenes. Except for one that Kirchner began in 1911 and repainted in 1922 and that Christie’s sold in London in 2006 for $3.8 million, this is the only remaining street scene in private hands. The rest are in museums around the world. In New York in November 2006, Christie’s sold another Berlin street scene from 1913-14 for a record $38 million. The buyer, who had the help of an anonymous friend, was Ronald S. Lauder, heir of the cosmetic conglomerate and founder of the Neue Galerie in Manhattan. The painting, of an urban crowd with a prostitute in a bright red dress, has been on and off the walls of the Neue Galerie ever since.
Ernst L. Kirchner was a German expressionist painter and printmaker and one of the founders of the artists group Die Brücke or "The Bridge", a key group leading to the foundation of Expressionism in 20th century art. He volunteered for army service in the First World War, but soon suffered a breakdown and was discharged. In 1933, his work was branded as "degenerate" by the Nazis and in 1937 over 600 of his works were sold or destroyed. In 1938 he committed suicide.