Reply To: Expressionism

  • Encyclios

    April 25, 2023 at 8:08 AM

    Expressionism in Germany

    Die Brücke (1905-13) is remarkable that, in Wilhelmine Germany, the post-romantic idealism of Marées and Böcklin was able to touch the younger generation more than the apparently more modern representatives of German Impressionism: Slevogt, Liebermann, and Corinth himself. It was equivalent to giving more interest to drawing and layout than to touch, while the renewal of graphic art induced the study of wood engravings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and Gothic art was considered typically Germanic (Worringer: Formprobleme der Gotik, 1911).

    But foreign lessons also bore fruit: Munch exhibited in Berlin in 1892 to great acclaim; at the beginning of the century, Gauguin, Cézanne, Lautrec, Van Gogh were exhibited in Berlin (1903), in Munich (1904), in Dresden (1905). The impact with Gauguin sharpened the theme of nostalgia for the lost paradise, of the union between man and nature in a universe freed from all hypocrisy and the notion of sin.

    Before the painters of Die Brücke, Paula Modersohn-Becker, who was part of the symbolist group of Worpswede, was inspired by Gauguin to translate a still restrained and meditative expressiveness. But in Dresden, young artists such as Kirchner, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff, and Pechstein drew from all these suggestions very strong stimuli that resulted in a painting of great expressive synthesis.

    Die Brücke is qualified by the strictly communal work, the importance and quality of the graphic achievements (especially wood engraving), the color distributed in flat areas, and a deliberate eroticism (Kirchner, Woman with blue sofa, 1910: Minneapolis, Inst. of Art, Schmidt-Rottluff, Two women, wood engraving, 1910). For a few years, Die Brücke managed to reconcile the two conflicting tendencies that had already pitted Gauguin and Van Gogh against each other: solitude in nature and intimate group exchanges.

    It was precisely this last aspect that was to repel Emil Nolde, much older and active in the group from 1906-1907; his research testifies to a religious torment completely alien to his young companions. Nolde translated his underlying mysticism into powerful signs (Legend of Mary of Egypt, 1912: Hamburg, Kunsthaus).

    Die Brücke was relatively isolated in Dresden; in Pechstein’s wake, the other artists settled in Berlin, where they were to find a much more open environment. They exhibited with Herwarth Walden, in the Der Sturm gallery, which was soon to impose the term ‘expressionism’ universally. It is referred to in 1911 to a selection of paintings by French Fauves presented at the Berlin Secession. The rapidity of exchanges and transformations, as well as the role played by Walden, were to contribute greatly to the complexity of the notion of Expressionism; in 1912 three exhibitions organized by Der Sturm were described as “Expressionist” in which very different works appeared: German (Der Blaue Reiter), French (Braque, Derain, Friesz, Vlaminck) and Belgian (Ensor, Wouters).

    Der Blaue Reiter presented even less homogeneity than Die Brücke, but it was then the tip of the German avant-garde. There are few similarities between Kandinsky, Marc, Jawlensky and Macke. The common denominator is the role of color, but each conceives it in his own way: emancipation of the subject for Kandinsky, linked to a pantheistic symbolism for Marc, conception of form in space for Macke, spirituality for Jawlensky, closer to Die Brücke in his predilection for the theme of the human face.

    Expressionism, “particular coloration of the soul” (according to the writer Ivan Goll), knows in this period different meanings. The laying bare of human character and drama goes hand in hand with an acute desire to renew the mechanism of perception. The contacts with Futurism in Berlin (Der Sturm, 1912) introduced another element: a feverish rhythm, which overwhelmed forms and concepts and reflected the climate of the imminent war, witnessed especially by Ludwig Meidner, founder of the group Die Pathetiker.

    Such acceleration was bound to take the members of Die Brücke by surprise. While Pechstein followed the example of Matisse, Kirchner, in the wake of Munch, expressed his anguish of the metropolis; Heckel, after meditating on Cézanne and Delaunay, gave the landscape a new transparency.

    The first general studies on expressionism appeared in 1914 and 1916, and were respectively due to Paul Fechter, Hermann Bahr and Walden himself. At that time, the antinomies between Cubism or Futurism and the German movement could hardly be distinguished: each was in some way a facet of the same emancipatory impulse with regard to naturalism.

    The emphasis placed on the work of Cézanne, recently discovered and considered one of the sources of expressionism, might also be surprising. The fact is that these attempts at systematization correspond to the vast international confrontations that took place in Germany shortly before the war, in the Sonderbund exhibition (Cologne, 1912; a panorama of research on color) and in the first German Autumn Salon in Berlin (Der Sturm, 1913).