Who knew there’s a connection between Picasso and Kirchner? Even though their painting styles are rather different, on one occasion they did portray a similar subject – a subject of prostitutes, common for Kirchner, and also a theme of one of the most famous Picasso’s work – The Young Ladies of Avignon.
These two paintings are executed in very different ways which is a result of the different art movements Kirchner and Picasso belonged to, but the subject that they portrayed so memorably is the same. Pablo Picasso’s painting The Young Ladies of Avignon is a good representation of the Cubist art movement which Picasso co-founded, whilst Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s painting Five Women in the Street is painted in Expressionistic manner. However, both of the paintings show prostitutes, five of them on each painting. While Picasso painted their bodies in very natural pinkish tones, and shaped them quite sharply, following Cezanne’s theory of shapes (an idea that everything in nature can be parceled into geometrical shapes). If you take a close look, you’ll notice how torsos are shaped like triangles, and their breasts like circles and quadrilaterals. Also, it’s interesting to note the unusual perspective, typical for Cubism by the way; a perspective which shows women’s eyes and nose from different angles, as if the viewer was walking around the painting. On the other hand, Kirchner painted these ‘fallen women’ in a very gothic manner; elongated, with thin, fragile bodies wrapped in dark coats, their faces pale, sickly, resembling masks. While yellow colour in Picasso’s painted exceeds into warm and safe earthly, pinkish tones, in Kirchner’s painting yellow looks feeble, grim and apocalyptic.
Refusal of the traditional conception of beauty is evident in both paintings. If we remember the ways Rubens or Titian painted their voluptuous beauties, and compare it with these part angular, part mask-like body parts, and add the other details I numbered above, it becomes clear that these two paintings are pure avant-garde. Both Picasso and Kirchner’s women appear ugly and grotesque compared to more traditional artworks, but we have to be open-minded in order to appreciate these peculiar, off-beat beauties. It is also the atmosphere of these paintings that differs them; Picasso’s painting appears stable, almost frozen in time, while Kirchner portrayed the city’s dynamics, hastiness, feeling of anxiety, fear and hopelessness – Kirchner’s women are walking up and down the streets of pre-catastrophe Berlin.