Portrait of Erna Schilling Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Portrait of Erna Schilling has sometimes been referred to under different titles such as Sick Woman or Lady with a Hat. Kirchner completed this painting in 1913 and it is now owned by the National Gallery, Berlin.

Erna was a dancer in a local Berlin nightclub who Kirchner met in 1911 and they soon dated. She would then model for him on a number of occasions. The artist also met her sister in the same location and she also modelled in several of his paintings. Erna is believed to have been an emotional character who Ernst enjoyed trying to help and encourage. He also found inspiration for his work in her strong and turbulent mood. Perhaps he saw similarities between himself and her. City nightlife has inspired much of the artist's work, though these were pre-arranged compositions. He also tackled 'real' scenes such as Berlin Street Scene, Street, Berlin and Street, Dresden where the various components of the German nightlife was displayed in all it's glory and seediness. He would always portray the women with respect and positivity, whatever their own circumstances.

The style of this piece is typical of Kirchner - Expressionist touches kept detail to a minimum and instead focused more on emotion. The lady looks gaunt in this piece, which perhaps suggests at the health problems that she would suffer in her latter years. Her facial expression is of melancholy, matching the descriptions that have been uncovered about her personality. It may be that working in the nightlife of a German city would take its toll on her over time, and this artist was always looking to speak about the negativities of life in these sprawling metropolises.

The National Gallery in Berlin focuses, as you might expect, on the finest German art, with other notable European names also included. Highlights include In the Conservatory by Edouard Manet, The Monk by the Sea by Caspar David Friedrich, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV by Barnett Newman and Eiffel Tower by Robert Delaunay. The overall collection is spread across a number of different venues, such is the size of it, plus also the desire to allow as many people to see these artworks as possible. As such, it is necessary to check ahead if you are looking to view specific artworks such as these in a personal visit. German art is fairly well spread around the country and also into the United States and other parts of Europe, particularly in the case of artists from the past few centuries, where the art scene had become far more international and connected by then, allowing purchases across borders and continents far more easily. Kirchner's own Potsdamer Platz can also found in their collection and this scene features Erna and her sister Gerda Schilling.