The female nude, whether depicted in the studio or in a nature setting, was one of the favourite subjects of Kirchner and his colleagues of the Die Brücke group, especially during the Dresden and Berlin periods. Only during his final years in Switzerland did Kirchner focus exclusively on landscape and almost completely eschew the human figure.
In Kneeling Nude in front of Red Screen, the schematic language of the woman kneeling before a screen with floral decoration against which another naked girl crouches recalls the influence of primitive art, which had first surfaced in Kirchner’s work years earlier. The simplified face of the young girl, which closely resembles that of an African mask, and the artist’s distortion of the figure, has led some authors to relate this work to Picasso’s pre-Cubist period. It also denotes an evolution in the artist’s style and a shift from the vivid colour of earlier periods to duller shades.
As with many of Kirchner’s works, this painting poses problems of dating. The catalogue of the exhibition on Expressionism held in Florence in 1964 dated it to 1909, relating it to other nudes from that same year. For his part, Donald Gordon dated it to 1912, but failed to provide any documentary evidence. More recently, Peter Vergo has broadened the chronological spectrum to 1911 and 1912, on account of the angular form of the figure and the nervous brushstrokes that were very similar to those of other works from the early Berlin years. In the absence of documentary details, this is the most convincing possibility.
Years later, between 1921 and 1923, Kirchner painted a seated nude on the reverse of the canvas. Its schematic but rounded forms and the luminous and expressive colouring are typical of the artistic style of the Davos period.