German Expressionism on MoMA Website
This section is devoted to the magnificent collection of German Expressionism which the famous New-York Museum has at its disposal. It comprises about 3200 works by more than 330 artists including about 2800 engravings (644 of which are in print in the Museum Library), 275 drawings, 32 posters, 40 paintings as well as sculptures, illustrated books and periodicals. All works are arranged with true German orderliness: according to styles, themes, techniques and periods. There is even a timeline from 1906 to 1937 and a map with cities and artists marked on it.
It should be reminded that Expressionism (from the Latin word “expressio”) is a modernist movement of the early 20th century which originated in response to social and political events of that time. Expressionist artists tried to convey their own emotional experience in their creative work. Along with painting, expressionism became widespread in other branches of art: architecture, literature, theatre, dancing, cinema and music.
ImpactAlthough expressionists disclaimed official art, which dominated in Germany at the turn of the century, they undoubtedly drew inspiration from various avant-garde trends of previous generations. They were mainly influenced by European post-impressionists such as Gauguin, Van Gogh and Munch. Certain impact of Futurism, Cubism, Surrealism and Dadaism can also be mentioned.
“Park”, abt. 1910. Gustav Klimt
"Bridge"The Bridge (Brucke) group was founded in Dresden on June 7, 1905, which is considered to be the date of birth of Expressionism. Young artists who founded the group – Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff – chose the name as a symbol of their aspiration for new art of the future and at the same time the symbol of its connection with the past. The artists of the group took graphic arts to their toolkit: drawing was much cheaper than oil painting. Moreover, drawing is more spontaneous and is better suited for conveying a passing experience. Bold lines, distorted shapes and intense colors provided a good emotional punch to a viewer.
“Self-Portrait (Sick Man)”, 1918. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
"Blue Rider"The "Blue Rider" Blue Rider was a group organized by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc in 1911 in Munich. The name refers to one of the main motives in Kandinsky’s works: a rider making his way out of the morass of the stiff academism and rushing far beyond it. Marc just liked painting animals and the horse was a symbol of revival for him. Participants of the association shared an interest in abstract shapes and pure colors which they believed to carry spiritual values capable of confronting the severe materialism of the epoch.
“Picture with an Archer”, 1909. Wassily Kandinsky
Austrian ExpressionismExpressionism in Austria was mainly represented by Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. Creative work of both artists was focused on portraiture and nude. The sexual and psychological charge of Schiele’s tense lines and Kokoschka’s nervous strokes broke the wall of a typical Vienna philistine’s complacency and conformism.
“Self-Portrait”, 1911-1912. Oskar Kokoschka
New ObjectivityNeue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) is a movement that appeared in Germany in 1920s as a challenge to Expressionism and an appeal to return to the sentimental reality, concentrate on the objective world, and get away from abstract, romantic or idealistic trends of Expressionism. The style is generally associated with portraiture and its main representatives include Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and George Grosz. Their relentlessly naturalistic pictures sometimes reminding of meticulous techniques of old masters often depict Weimar society in a scathing satiric manner.
“Doctor Mayer-Hermann”, 1926. Otto Dix
Other ExpressionistsIn addition to major artists’ associations (Bridge and Blue Rider) and main movements (Austrian Expressionism and New Objectivity) there were also artists who worked in a more independent way. Although some of them were concerned with different groups and associations at some time, they mostly worked autonomously. For instance, Emil Nolde was a member of the Bridge for some time but most of the time he worked as an independent artist. Otto Dix and George Grosz who were associated with New Objectivity in 1920, had preached individual approach to Expressionism before that.
“Dancer”, 1913. Emil Nolde
Expressionism appeared and developed at the beginning of the 20th century, with its numerous global commotions and contradictions which, of course, had an impact on artists’ themes. The materialism of contemporary urban life; the break of the strong connection of a human with nature and God; the potential of the nude and emotionalism of portraits; and, above all, the necessity to confront the destructive forces of World War I were the main themes of expressionist painters.
The extensive work carried out by the MoMA gives us a clear idea of not only Expressionism but also of what was going on in European art one hundred years ago.