"FIVE TARTS" have flocked to a Berlin street corner where they stand like scrawny crows in their feathered hats. Boredom and disdain have left different marks on each woman's face.
A 1914 woodcut by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, "Five Tarts" is a felicitous marriage of form and feeling. And it's one of the finest "German Expressionist Prints From the Collection of Ruth and Jacob Kainen," on display in the National Gallery's East Building.
Local collectors, the Kainens have lent the gallery 90 such extraordinary prints, produced in the first third of this century. Among them are Emil Nolde's scratchy etchings of Hamburg harbor and church, Ludwig Meidner's brooding self-portraits and Karl Schmidt- Rottluff's crisp, imposing, geometrical woodcut, "Portrait of Guthmann." Especially moving are Walter Gramatt,e's reactions to World War I -- "Torment," "The Great Anxiety," "The Fall Into Infinity," and "Burial," where an eternal train of mourners stretches from coffin to horizon. Less known but no less startling with his imagery is Paul Gangolf, whose "Tightrope Walker" is almost lost in a vertiginous view down into a maze of buildings.
Kirchner is the star, as well as the most accomplished printmaker in the collection. He is also responsible for bringing together the two collectors -- Jacob Kainen, painter, printmaker and former Smithsonian graphics curator, and Ruth Kainen, author. When Jacob Kainen was looking for Kirchner prints at a local gallery, he turned to her to explain who Kirchner was. She just happened to already own a lithograph.
"I didn't think much of it," Ruth Kainen says, "but he did. Two days later he called and asked if he could see it, and we were on."
Kirchner has been a shared passion ever since, and that is why there are so many in their collection (which eventually will belong to the National Gallery).
Ruth Kainen tends to start her sentences with the words, "Jacob says," and Jacob says some interesting things about their prints: That the printmaker has to condense so much, the quality of his mind comes through. That the pleasure in owning a print is to hold it in your hand. And that when you've got a big collection, you don't know whether you own the collection, or it owns you.
GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST PRINTS FROM THE COLLECTION OF RUTH AND JACOB KAINEN -- At the National Gallery of Art through February 9, 1986.