Reply To: Expressionism

  • Encyclios

    April 25, 2023 at 8:10 AM

    The First World War period

    The First World War disrupted the Expressionist movement, whose very complexity could have predicted its dissolution. A four-year conflict upset the acquired artistic positions, and other attitudes towards the art of living were imposed, the clearest of which, in affirming a radical break with the past, was that of Dada in Zurich.

    The most representative artists of the time translated their personal reactions, for example Kirchner and Kokoschka, both traumatized by the war, into their pathetic self-portraits (Kirchner, Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915: Saint Louis, private collection; Kokoschka, Self-Portrait, 1917: Wuppertal, private collection). Kandinsky was in Russia, Jawlensky in Switzerland, Marc and Macke had disappeared during the war. These various phenomena of dispersion indicate that the young generation had to start from different premises.

    Futurism and Dadaism intervene in the early paintings of Grosz and Dix, moved by a heated anti-militarism. Social demands and the need to transform society, whose contradictions Expressionism had just denounced, inspired paintings such as Grosz’s Funeral of Oscar Panizza (1917-18: Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie), while Dix’s Self-Portraits (1914-15) were a prelude to the ferocious repertoire of images of the 1920s.

    Max Beckmann had at first been rather hostile to Expressionism, and the 1914 Road (coll. Mathilde Beckmann) contrasts sharply with Kirchner’s contemporary Berlin scenes. The experience of war later inspired him to paint many large compositions, whose complex layout and vehemence are derived from Gothic painting; Night (1918-19: Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen), the masterpiece of this series, is symptomatic of the confusion and anguish that reigned in Germany at the end of the war. An excellent engraver, especially with a dry point, Beckmann remained faithful to the Expressionist tradition, and committed himself to scrutinizing his own face (Smoker, 1916; Self-portrait with burin, 1917), but already with an intention of objectivity, with a distance from himself that are so many signs of an irreversible evolution.

    While these important changes were taking place in Germany, the countries north of France (Belgium and Holland) gave birth to other strands of the Expressionist movement.
    In Belgium, the starting point was the colony of artists in Laethem-Saint-Martin, where, before 1914, Servaes, Van de Woestyne, De Smet, Van den Berghe and Permeke gathered. In Laethem reigned a primitivistic symbolism illustrated especially by Van de Woestyne and the sculptor and designer Georges Minne.

    The exhibition of Flemish primitives (Bruges, 1902) and especially the high figure of Bruegel played an important role in the revaluation of popular subjects (Servaes, Potato Harvesters, 1909: Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts).
    The war dispersed the artists: while Permeke, wounded, went to England, De Smet and Van den Berghe took refuge in Amsterdam.

    The first executed in England some large paintings, then considered the manifestos of expressionism in Flanders, although they reveal in the layout a strong link with symbolism (The Stranger, 1916: Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts). The other two painters found an environment in Amsterdam that was much more up-to-date with European innovations than that of Laethem.

    The Frenchman Le Fauconnier, trained as a Cubist, gave life (from 1915 to 1918 ca.) to a very personal expressionism of a dreamlike or social nature (The Signal, 1915). Parallel to Le Fauconnier, the Dutchman Jan Sluyters had a brief Expressionist interlude between 1915 and 1917, inspired by the small village of Staphorst; the influence of Van Gogh’s Dutch period and that of Cubism come together in a skillful synthesis (Peasant Family of Staphorst, 1917: Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum).

    The Belgians also discovered, through magazines, German Expressionism and Negro art. De Smet chose as Sluyters a privileged place, Spakenburg, a fishing village in the Zuideræe, and from Cubism he drew the simplification of drawing (Woman of Spakenburg, 1917: today in Antwerp). Van den Berghe approached Die Brücke; interested in Negro art, he produced powerful wood engravings at this time (Waiting, 1919).