Thursday, June 2, 2022

Kirchner's MARZELLA: Highbrow Art or German Teen Porn?

Fig. 1. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Marzella, 1910.
Moderna Museet, Stockholm. (Fig. 1)

In Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Marzella (Fig. 1), the prepubescent nymphet is sans fountainsConsequently, Sherwin Simmons wrote in the paper ''A suggestiveness that can make one crazy': Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Images of Marzella" published in Modernism/modernity that not being able to determine the naked model’s maturity is discomforting  - especially when one gets the impression that 14-year-old Marzella is exuding a "sexual desire".

Fig. 2. Kirchner's 1st Drawing of Marzella
Altonaer Museum, Hamburg 

Kirchner, the German expressionist painter and printmaker, wrote in a letter to Erich Heckel, the German painter and printmaker, that Marzella "shows fine features", that he and the nymphet "play", and that she had an insane "suggestiveness":
Marzella has now become completely at home and shows fine features. We have become very familiar; we lie on the carpet and play. There is great charm in such a pure female, a suggestiveness that can make one crazy. More so than in the older girls. Freer, but without anything of the consummate female being lost. 
Marzella and other nymphets like Marzella's 12-year-old friend and her 15-year-old sister were able: "[...] to roller skate and bike naked through the artists’ rooms."

Senta, a 13-year-old with “marvelous conical breasts”, was another patron of Kirchner's studio. On at least one occasion, after stripping, she sat next to Marzella:
Senta comes and strips. I greet her so that the darling feels in my complete possession. How these two cats look each other over, I frantically try to start a conversation. They carefully pay attention to each other. “How do you like Senta?” Good, I leave the two alone for a moment. Then the friendship is ready. We are together until 7:30 pm.
Fig. 3. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Fränzi on a Sofa, 1909–10.
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

Simmons related that 8-years-old Lina Franziska (Fränzi) Fehrmann was Kirchner's youngest model. In Kirchner's Erich Heckel and Fränzi on a Sofa, Fränzi poses on Heckel’s lap. Consequently, Simmons suggested: [...] the naked bodies of girl and artist come into intimate contact [...]" (Fig. 3). Unsurprisingly, the painting raised some eyebrows at a 2010 exhibition organized by Hannover’s Sprengel Museum and Halle’s Moritzburg Stiftung.

Fig. 4. Erich Heckel, Girl with Doll (Fränzi) 
Neue Galerie New York

Simmons wrote that in Heckel’s Girl with Doll (Fränzi) (Fig. 4), Fränzi's (partially) nude pose can be: "[...] associated with Venuses, courtesans, and prostitutes." However, the skirt of Fränzi's doll: "[...] partially covers the girl’s slim thigh, with its right edge both shaping the pubis and concealing the genitals." Ironically, Simmons wrote that: "Heckel appears to use the doll as a sign of innocent childhood [...]"

In a postcard that Kirchner sent to Heckel (Fig. 5), Marzella is posing on a bed, but her hands are hiding her sex. Simmons stated: "[...] suggesting an awareness of the gaze’s ultimate object [...]", which is a pose that Simmons related is related to Edvard Munch’s Puberty where Munch's nymphet is exuding her: "[...] awakening female sexuality that was 'both vulnerable and defiant, fragile in a confused state.'"

Fig. 6. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner,
Illustration for Frank Wedekind’s Mine-Haha

Simmons shared that a number of Kirchner's drawings referenced Wedekind and Wedekind’s Mine-Haha; or, On the Bodily Education of Young Girls, which Kirchner illustrated. For example, in one drawing (Fig. 6), Kirchner illustrated a scene from The Gnat Prince, the second act of a play performed in the book. In the act, the prince, played by a nymphet, undressed "[...] one of a series of girls whom “he” guided to bed [...]". Subsequently: "[...] the cast circles a copulating couple in bed while walking on their hands, thus exposing their genitals to the audience’s gaze [...]"

Fig. 7. Ernst Kirchner, Drawing in Sketchbook 8

In a drawing from Kirchner's Sketchbook 8 (Fig. 7), Marzella is posing, with her legs spread and genitals featured, on a “Cam-eroon chair” that Simmons interprets as move: "[...] from an association with the softer exoticism of Japonisme to the harder primitivism of Africa."

Fig. 8. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, KG Brücke in Galerie Arnold.
Exhibition Poster

In a woodcut, which was made to illustrate an exhibition poster (Fig. 8), Simmons explained that "Marzella’s immaturity is accentuated by the thinness of her arms [...]". And that the fetus which Marzella appears to be holding, illustrates the nymphets "sexual/procreative potential" as a child bride. 

Lastly, we're always intrigued by how some of the most controversial art is possessed by displayed in some of the most distinguished cultural institutions around the world. For example, Moderna Museet's Marzella, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art's (i.e., Cornell University's) Erich Heckel and Fränzi on a Sofa, and the National Gallery's Puberty.

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