|Years active||The years before WWI and the interwar years|
|Country||Predominantly Germany, but also in Austria, France, and Russia|
|Major figures||Artists loosely categorized within such groups as Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter; the Berlin Secession and the Dresden Secession|
|Influenced||American Figurative Expressionism, generally, and Boston Expressionism, in particular|
Expressionism is a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas.Expressionist artists have sought to express the meaning of emotional experience rather than physical reality.
Expressionism developed as an avant-garde style before the First World War. It remained popular during the Weimar Republic,particularly in Berlin. The style extended to a wide range of the arts, including expressionist architecture, painting, literature, theatre, dance, film and music.
The term is sometimes suggestive of angst. In a historical sense, much older painters such as Matthias Grünewald and El Greco are sometimes termed expressionist, though the term is applied mainly to 20th-century works. The Expressionist emphasis on individual and subjective perspective has been characterized as a reaction to positivism and other artistic styles such as Naturalism and Impressionism.
While the word expressionist was used in the modern sense as early as 1850, its origin is sometimes traced to paintings exhibited in 1901 in Paris by obscure artist Julien-Auguste Hervé, which he called Expressionismes.An alternative view is that the term was coined by the Czech art historian Antonin Matějček in 1910 as the opposite of Impressionism: "An Expressionist wishes, above all, to express himself... (an Expressionist rejects) immediate perception and builds on more complex psychic structures... Impressions and mental images that pass through ... people's soul as through a filter which rids them of all substantial accretions to produce their clear essence [...and] are assimilated and condense into more general forms, into types, which he transcribes through simple short-hand formulae and symbols."
Important precursors of Expressionism were the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), especially his philosophical novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–1892); the later plays of the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg (1849–1912), including the trilogy To Damascus 1898–1901, A Dream Play (1902), The Ghost Sonata (1907); Frank Wedekind (1864–1918), especially the "Lulu" plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) (1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box) (1904); the American poet Walt Whitman's (1819–1892) Leaves of Grass (1855–1891); the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881); Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863–1944); Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890); Belgian painter James Ensor (1860–1949);and pioneering Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).
In 1905, a group of four German artists, led by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, formed Die Brücke (the Bridge) in the city of Dresden. This was arguably the founding organization for the German Expressionist movement, though they did not use the word itself. A few years later, in 1911, a like-minded group of young artists formed Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich. The name came from Wassily Kandinsky's Der Blaue Reiter painting of 1903. Among their members were Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, and Auguste Macke. However, the term Expressionism did not firmly establish itself until 1913.Though mainly a German artistic movement initially and most predominant in painting, poetry and the theatre between 1910 and 1930, most precursors of the movement were not German. Furthermore, there have been expressionist writers of prose fiction, as well as non-German-speaking expressionist writers, and, while the movement had declined in Germany with the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, there were subsequent expressionist works.
Expressionism is notoriously difficult to define, in part because it "overlapped with other major 'isms' of the modernist period: with Futurism, Vorticism, Cubism, Surrealism and Dadaism."Richard Murphy also comments, “the search for an all-inclusive definition is problematic to the extent that the most challenging expressionists such as Kafka, Gottfried Benn and Döblin were simultaneously the most vociferous 'anti-expressionists.'"
What can be said, however, is that it was a movement that developed in the early twentieth century, mainly in Germany, in reaction to the dehumanizing effect of industrialization and the growth of cities, and that "one of the central means by which expressionism identifies itself as an avant-garde movement, and by which it marks its distance to traditions and the cultural institution as a whole is through its relationship to realism and the dominant conventions of representation."More explicitly, that the expressionists rejected the ideology of realism.
The term refers to an "artistic style in which the artist seeks to depict not objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse within a person".It is arguable that all artists are expressive but there are many examples of art production in Europe from the 15th century onward which emphasize extreme emotion. Such art often occurs during times of social upheaval and war, such as the Protestant Reformation, German Peasants' War, and Eighty Years' War between the Spanish and the Netherlands, when extreme violence, much directed at civilians, was represented in propagandist popular prints. These were often unimpressive aesthetically but had the capacity to arouse extreme emotions in the viewer.
Expressionism has been likened to Baroque by critics such as art historian Michel Ragonand German philosopher Walter Benjamin. According to Alberto Arbasino, a difference between the two is that "Expressionism doesn't shun the violently unpleasant effect, while Baroque does. Expressionism throws some terrific 'fuck yous', Baroque doesn't. Baroque is well-mannered."
Some of the style's main visual artists of the early 20th century were:
The style originated principally in Germany and Austria. There were a number of groups of expressionist painters, including Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke. Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider, named for a painting) was based in Munich and Die Brücke was originally based in Dresden (although some members later relocated to Berlin). Die Brücke was active for a longer period than Der Blaue Reiter, which was only together for a year (1912). The Expressionists were influenced by various artists and sources including Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, and African art.They were also aware of the work being done by the Fauves in Paris, who influenced Expressionism's tendency toward arbitrary colours and jarring compositions. In reaction and opposition to French Impressionism, which emphasized the rendering of the visual appearance of objects, Expressionist artists sought to portray emotions and subjective interpretations. It was not important to reproduce an aesthetically pleasing impression of the artistic subject matter, they felt, but rather to represent vivid emotional reactions by powerful colours and dynamic compositions. Kandinsky, the main artist of Der Blaue Reiter group, believed that with simple colours and shapes the spectator could perceive the moods and feelings in the paintings, a theory that encouraged him towards increased abstraction.
The ideas of German expressionism influenced the work of American artist Marsden Hartley, who met Kandinsky in Germany in 1913.In late 1939, at the beginning of World War II, New York City received a great number of major European artists. After the war, Expressionism influenced many young American artists. Norris Embry (1921–1981) studied with Oskar Kokoschka in 1947 and during the next 43 years produced a large body of work in the Expressionist tradition. Norris Embry has been termed "the first American German Expressionist". Other American artists of the late 20th and early 21st century have developed distinct styles that may be considered part of Expressionism. Another prominent artist who came from the German Expressionist "school" was Bremen-born Wolfgang Degenhardt. After working as a commercial artist in Bremen, he migrated to Australia in 1954 and became quite well known in the Hunter Valley region.
After World War II, figurative expressionism influenced worldwide a large number of artists and styles. In the U.S., American Expressionismand American Figurative Expressionism, particularly Boston Expressionism, were an integral part of American modernism around the Second World War. Thomas B. Hess wrote that "the ‘New figurative painting’ which some have been expecting as a reaction against Abstract Expressionism was implicit in it at the start, and is one of its most lineal continuities."
The Expressionist movement included other types of culture, including dance, sculpture, cinema and theatre.
Exponents of expressionist dance included Mary Wigman, Rudolf von Laban, and Pina Bausch.
Some sculptors used the Expressionist style, as for example Ernst Barlach. Other expressionist artists known mainly as painters, such as Erich Heckel, also worked with sculpture.
There was an Expressionist style in German cinema, important examples of which are Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920), Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) and F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922) and The Last Laugh (1924). The term "expressionist" is also sometimes used to refer to stylistic devices thought to resemble those of German Expressionism, such as film noir cinematography or the style of several of the films of Ingmar Bergman. More generally, the term expressionism can be used to describe cinematic styles of great artifice, such as the technicolor melodramas of Douglas Sirk or the sound and visual design of David Lynch's films.
Two leading Expressionist journals published in Berlin were Der Sturm , published by Herwarth Walden starting in 1910,and Die Aktion , which first appeared in 1911 and was edited by Franz Pfemfert. Der Sturm published poetry and prose from contributors such as Peter Altenberg, Max Brod, Richard Dehmel, Alfred Döblin, Anatole France, Knut Hamsun, Arno Holz, Karl Kraus, Selma Lagerlöf, Adolf Loos, Heinrich Mann, Paul Scheerbart, and René Schickele, and writings, drawings, and prints by such artists as Kokoschka, Kandinsky, and members of Der blaue Reiter.
The artist and playwright Oskar Kokoschka's 1909 playlet, Murderer, The Hope of Women is often termed the first expressionist drama. In it, an unnamed man and woman struggle for dominance. The man brands the woman; she stabs and imprisons him. He frees himself and she falls dead at his touch. As the play ends, he slaughters all around him (in the words of the text) "like mosquitoes." The extreme simplification of characters to mythic types, choral effects, declamatory dialogue and heightened intensity all would become characteristic of later expressionist plays.The German composer Paul Hindemith created an operatic version of this play, which premiered in 1921.
Expressionism was a dominant influence on early 20th-century German theatre, of which Georg Kaiser and Ernst Toller were the most famous playwrights. Other notable Expressionist dramatists included Reinhard Sorge, Walter Hasenclever, Hans Henny Jahnn, and Arnolt Bronnen. Important precursors were the Swedish playwright August Strindberg and German actor and dramatist Frank Wedekind. During the 1920s, Expressionism enjoyed a brief period of influence in American theatre, including the early modernist plays by Eugene O'Neill ( The Hairy Ape , The Emperor Jones and The Great God Brown), Sophie Treadwell ( Machinal ) and Elmer Rice ( The Adding Machine ).
Expressionist plays often dramatise the spiritual awakening and sufferings of their protagonists. Some utilise an episodic dramatic structure and are known as Stationendramen (station plays), modeled on the presentation of the suffering and death of Jesus in the Stations of the Cross. August Strindberg had pioneered this form with his autobiographical trilogy To Damascus . These plays also often dramatise the struggle against bourgeois values and established authority, frequently personified by the Father. In Sorge's The Beggar , (Der Bettler), for example, the young hero's mentally ill father raves about the prospect of mining the riches of Mars and is finally poisoned by his son. In Bronnen's Parricide (Vatermord), the son stabs his tyrannical father to death, only to have to fend off the frenzied sexual overtures of his mother.
In Expressionist drama, the speech may be either expansive and rhapsodic, or clipped and telegraphic. Director Leopold Jessner became famous for his expressionistic productions, often set on stark, steeply raked flights of stairs (having borrowed the idea from the Symbolist director and designer, Edward Gordon Craig). Staging was especially important in Expressionist drama, with directors forgoing the illusion of reality to block actors in as close to two-dimensional movement. Directors also made heavy use of lighting effects to create stark contrast and as another method to heavily emphasize emotion and convey the play or a scene's message.
German expressionist playwrights:
Playwrights influenced by Expressionism:
Among the poets associated with German Expressionism were:
Other poets influenced by expressionism:
In prose, the early stories and novels of Alfred Döblin were influenced by Expressionism,and Franz Kafka is sometimes labelled an Expressionist. Some further writers and works that have been called Expressionist include:
The term expressionism "was probably first applied to music in 1918, especially to Schoenberg", because like the painter Kandinsky he avoided "traditional forms of beauty" to convey powerful feelings in his music.Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, the members of the Second Viennese School, are important Expressionists (Schoenberg was also an expressionist painter). Other composers that have been associated with expressionism are Krenek (the Second Symphony), Paul Hindemith (The Young Maiden), Igor Stravinsky (Japanese Songs), Alexander Scriabin (late piano sonatas) (Adorno 2009, 275). Another significant expressionist was Béla Bartók in early works, written in the second decade of the 20th-century, such as Bluebeard's Castle (1911), The Wooden Prince (1917), and The Miraculous Mandarin (1919). Important precursors of expressionism are Richard Wagner (1813–1883), Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), and Richard Strauss (1864–1949).
Theodor Adorno describes expressionism as concerned with the unconscious, and states that "the depiction of fear lies at the centre" of expressionist music, with dissonance predominating, so that the "harmonious, affirmative element of art is banished" (Adorno 2009, 275–76). Erwartung and Die Glückliche Hand, by Schoenberg, and Wozzeck , an opera by Alban Berg (based on the play Woyzeck by Georg Büchner), are examples of Expressionist works.If one were to draw an analogy from paintings, one may describe the expressionist painting technique as the distortion of reality (mostly colors and shapes) to create a nightmarish effect for the particular painting as a whole. Expressionist music roughly does the same thing, where the dramatically increased dissonance creates, aurally, a nightmarish atmosphere.
In architecture, two specific buildings are identified as Expressionist: Bruno Taut's Glass Pavilion of the Cologne Werkbund Exhibition (1914), and Erich Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany completed in 1921. The interior of Hans Poelzig's Berlin theatre (the Grosse Schauspielhaus), designed for the director Max Reinhardt, is also cited sometimes. The influential architectural critic and historian Sigfried Giedion, in his book Space, Time and Architecture (1941), dismissed Expressionist architecture as a part of the development of functionalism. In Mexico, in 1953, German émigré Mathias Goeritz published the Arquitectura Emocional ("Emotional Architecture") manifesto with which he declared that "architecture's principal function is emotion".Modern Mexican architect Luis Barragán adopted the term that influenced his work. The two of them collaborated in the project Torres de Satélite (1957–58) guided by Goeritz's principles of Arquitectura Emocional. It was only during the 1970s that Expressionism in architecture came to be re-evaluated more positively.
Abstract expressionism is a post–World War II art movement in American painting, developed in New York City in the 1940s. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York at the center of the Western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. Although the term "abstract expressionism" was first applied to American art in 1946 by the art critic Robert Coates, it had been first used in Germany in 1919 in the magazine Der Sturm, regarding German Expressionism. In the United States, Alfred Barr was the first to use this term in 1929 in relation to works by Wassily Kandinsky.
Franz Moritz Wilhelm Marc was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of German Expressionism. He was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter, a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it.
Abstract art uses visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an attempt to reproduce an illusion of visible reality. By the end of the 19th century many artists felt a need to create a new kind of art which would encompass the fundamental changes taking place in technology, science and philosophy. The sources from which individual artists drew their theoretical arguments were diverse, and reflected the social and intellectual preoccupations in all areas of Western culture at that time.
Die Brücke was a group of German expressionist artists formed in Dresden in 1905. Founding members were Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Later members were Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller. The seminal group had a major impact on the evolution of modern art in the 20th century and the creation of expressionism. The group came to an end around 1913. The Brücke Museum in Berlin was named after the group.
Der Blaue Reiter was a group of artists united in rejection of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München in Munich, Germany. The group was founded by a number of Russian emigrants, including Wassily Kandinsky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, and native German artists, such as Franz Marc, Paul Klee, August Macke and Gabriele Münter. They considered that the principles of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München, a group Kandinsky had founded in 1909, had become too strict and traditional.
Gabriele Münter was a German expressionist painter who was at the forefront of the Munich avant-garde in the early 20th century. She studied and lived with the painter Wassily Kandinsky and was a founding member of the expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter.
The term expressionism "was probably first applied to music in 1918, especially to Schoenberg", because like the painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) he avoided "traditional forms of beauty" to convey powerful feelings in his music. Theodor Adorno interprets the expressionist movement in music as seeking to "eliminate all of traditional music's conventional elements, everything formulaically rigid". This he sees as analogous "to the literary ideal of the 'scream' ". As well Adorno sees expressionist music, as seeking "the truthfulness of subjective feeling without illusions, disguises or euphemisms". Adorno also describes it as concerned with the unconscious, and states that "the depiction of fear lies at the centre" of expressionist music, with dissonance predominating, so that the "harmonious, affirmative element of art is banished". Expressionist music would “thus reject the depictive, sensual qualities that had come to be associated with impressionist music. It would endeavor instead to realize its own purely musical nature—in part by disregarding compositional conventions that placed 'outer' restrictions on the expression of 'inner' visions".
Blue Horses or Die grossen blauen Pferde is a 1911 painting by German painter and printmaker Franz Marc (1880–1916).
Marianne von Werefkin, born Marianna Wladimirowna Werewkina, was a Russian-German-Swiss Expressionist painter.
Expressionist architecture was an architectural movement in Europe during the first decades of the 20th century in parallel with the expressionist visual and performing arts that especially developed and dominated in Germany. Brick Expressionism is a special variant of this movement in western and northern Germany and in The Netherlands. Expressionist architecture is one of the three dominant styles of Modern architecture: International Style, Expressionist, and Constructivist architecture.
German art has a long and distinguished tradition in the visual arts, from the earliest known work of figurative art to its current output of contemporary art.
Twentieth-century art—and what it became as modern art—began with modernism in the late nineteenth century. Nineteenth-century movements of Post-Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Symbolism led to the first twentieth-century art movements of Fauvism in France and Die Brücke in Germany. Fauvism in Paris introduced heightened non-representational colour into figurative painting. Die Brücke strove for emotional Expressionism. Another German group was Der Blaue Reiter, led by Kandinsky in Munich, who associated the blue rider image with a spiritual non-figurative mystical art of the future. Kandinsky, Kupka, R. Delaunay and Picabia were pioneers of abstract art. Cubism, generated by Picasso, Braque, Metzinger, Gleizes and others rejected the plastic norms of the Renaissance by introducing multiple perspectives into a two-dimensional image. Futurism incorporated the depiction of movement and machine age imagery. Dadaism, with its most notable exponents, Marcel Duchamp, who rejected conventional art styles altogether by exhibiting found objects, notably a urinal, and too Francis Picabia, with his Portraits Mécaniques.
The history of Western painting represents a continuous, though disrupted, tradition from antiquity until the present time. Until the mid-19th century it was primarily concerned with representational and Classical modes of production, after which time more modern, abstract and conceptual forms gained favor.
New York Figurative Expressionism is a visual arts movement and a branch of American Figurative Expressionism. Though the movement dates to the 1930s, it was not formally classified as "figurative expressionism" until the term arose as a counter-distinction to the New York-based postwar movement known as Abstract Expressionism.
20th-century Western painting begins with the heritage of late-19th-century painters Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and others who were essential for the development of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century, Henri Matisse and several other young artists including the pre-cubist Georges Braque, André Derain, Raoul Dufy and Maurice de Vlaminck, revolutionized the Paris art world with "wild", multi-colored, expressive landscapes and figure paintings that the critics called Fauvism. Matisse's second version of The Dance signified a key point in his career and in the development of modern painting. It reflected Matisse's incipient fascination with primitive art: the intense warm color of the figures against the cool blue-green background and the rhythmical succession of the dancing nudes convey the feelings of emotional liberation and hedonism.
American Figurative Expressionism is a 20th-century visual art style or movement that first took hold in Boston, and later spread throughout the United States. Critics dating back to the origins of Expressionism have often found it hard to define. One description, however, classifies it as a Humanist philosophy, since it's human-centered and rationalist. Its formal approach to the handling of paint and space is often considered a defining feature, too, as is its radical, rather than reactionary, commitment to the figure.
The New Secession was an association of expressionist artists organizing joint exhibitions in Berlin 1910–1914.
Jill Lloyd is a writer and curator specializing in twentieth-century art, with particular expertise for German and Austrian art. She has organised many critically acclaimed exhibitions for leading museums and has published widely, including her book German Expressionism, Primitivism and Modernity, which was awarded the first National Art Book Prize.
The Blue Rider is an oil painting executed in Bavaria in 1903 by the Russian emigré artist Wassily Kandinsky. It is now held in a private collection in Zurich, and shares its name with the art movement he would co-found with Franz Marc in the early 1910s.
There is no doubt that Expressionism is Baroque in essence
L’espressionismo non rifugge dall’effetto violentemente sgradevole, mentre invece il barocco lo fa. L’espressionismo tira dei tremendi «vaffanculo», il barocco no. Il barocco è beneducato (Expressionism doesn't shun the violently unpleasant effect, while Baroque does. Expressionism throws some terrific "Fuck yous", Baroque doesn't. Baroque is well-mannered.)
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