The Soldiers Bath
Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
The work is an oil painting, one hundred and forty centimeters wide and one and a half meters high. The motif is a group of naked men showering, monitored by a man in uniform to the right in the picture. Slightly to the left of the center of the image surface is a large, slightly abstract shape that is the oven that heats up the showers. The brush strokes are wide, the color of the men's skin yellowish against cold, blue-green shades in the background.
War can also be portrayed like this. Crammed together in a shower room, naked and vulnerable, young men on their way to the trenches of the First World War.
It’s quite horrible to think of these young people who have been kind of tricked — tricked into a major conflict that they themselves have no stake in, or anything to win or lose. Perhaps they haven’t even experienced falling in love yet.
This is Øystein Ustvedt, a curator at the National Museum.
One feature of this image that I think is very powerful, is the absence of the actual war. There’s no one being killed, no blood, no violent scenes. But this somewhat claustrophobic space generates an atmosphere of intense unease. And another thing is how they all resemble each other, it is as though there are no individuals. Humanity is reduced to a mass, there are just naked bodies and faces that are almost like masks. I think this loss of individuality is very powerfully depicted. And that is something one can imagine about being a soldier, how in a way you lose your own identity.
There is a sharp contrast between these young male bodies, crammed together in a small space, and the shower scenario, which from our perspective almost looks like a gas chamber. One does tend to make these kinds of associations, when seeing this from our own times.