A Young Girl contemplates Her Future (Woman’s) Destiny


E.L.Kirchner, “Marzella”, 1910

While trying to settle down to Kirchner’s painting we have to start by asking ourselves several questions suggested by the painter. First: what is this invisible diagonal that the composition of the painting draws from the lower left corner (from the sweetly vegetating cat left unpainted by Kirchner) through the girl’s body to the right upper corner of the painting where we see the opening to the blue, and several bottles of various alcoholic drinks on the floor? Second: why do we immediately have the impression that the girl is pretty while we are prevented (by the painter) from seeing her face? Third: what is so particular and enigmatic about the girl’s posture? And, finally, why the colors used for depicting the room environment of the girl’s life are mainly a combination of green and blue (life and after-life), and her slippers are bright orange-red in relation to the pale orange strips on the floor (as their echo)?

The girl with passionate melancholy contemplates the path her destiny opens in front of her (look how tightly she holds her face-head with her right palm) – the road she needs to cover between unpainted cat and the bottles near the door out. This path, it seems, is the earthly way, the task of life every adolescent of both genders sees ahead. The dark-blue reality we see outside the opened door, will come only later as the unrecognizable/unknowable area (if it is a curtain, it is behind life, not, like in a theater, hanging before life on the stage; real life takes place in this curtain’s foreground; but if it is a street it is a mythological one).

The girl is as if enveloped by the couch’s formless and an amorphous reality (Kirchner makes it blob-like to emphasize what exactly the couch is for the girl’s intuitive perception (not for her and our eyes influenced by the extravert perspective), for her destiny (not as a part of the interior of the room). This couch for her is a kind of a womb protecting her from being prematurely exposed to experiences of love and sexuality.

How Kirchner found a way to make the girl pretty without painting her as such? And why did he deny himself the pleasure of painting a beautiful face? Isn’t this the prerogative of painters? By suggesting her prettiness without proving it, Kirchner made a choice between being a realistic painter and an intellectual artist who prefers to make a use of semantic strategies of communication instead of purely externalizing ones. His vision is directed at the internal reality, not at its surface. He shows the external world seen by the human internal world, not by the organs of perception, be it his own, his protagonist Marzella or the viewers. The viewers unconsciously infer the girl’s beauty from the existential situation she is involved in, in Kirchner’s painting. He makes us intuitively “guess” that she is attractive rather than puts us post-factum, what a much less sophisticated painter couldn’t resist doing. The task of a spiritual artist is to involve other people spiritually and not by the obvious, “incarnated and materialized” (including painterly) effects.

The diagonal line of Marzella’s destiny starts with a semi-sleepy cat which has no other reason to be left uncolored except that she is a metaphor of the girl’s dormant, not fully awakened femininity. And instinctively she is as if protecting this latency of her femininity by closing tightly her thighs. The “punctum” of her posture is that her right leg, while obviously lying on the couch is also as if about to run ahead (the pantomimic image of her instinctive hesitation whether to continue to be a child or to allow herself to move toward adulthood). But the road along the interior of the room is in the direction of the experience of the encounter with the mysterious phallic galaxy in front of her.

Marzella’s contemplation phase we observe in this painting is triggered by her intelligence. She looks at not what is ahead of her, not in the direction of the opened door, but to the side – where there is nothing to see, there is no wise man, a fairy there or any written prescriptions or instructions. There she can find only projection into the emptiness of her own intelligence, of its spirits-words and ghosts-emotions which will help her finally to turn with her gaze to her path with an existential courage and understanding.

The orange strips on the green floor mark her steps towards her youth when Marzella’s intelligence growing from her melancholic questioning of the world and fusing with passion will create a new spiritual mutation. Marzella’s slippers are like the red flowers of the green earth.

Kirchner depicts Marzella’s predicament without any euphemisms – his images could be shocking for the purists if they were able to understand them (“What? – Bottles of different shapes, sizes and colors? It is scandalous and disgusting!”)

Isn’t it incredible that an artist in 1910 challenges the hypocrites of the 21st century? Kirchner is a real human being who understands Marzella as a person whose intelligence is not antagonistic to her bodylines (look at her eyes of thinking, this young girl has not only ardorous but the Cartesian eyes).