Reply To: Expressionism

  • Encyclios

    April 25, 2023 at 8:26 AM


    The decline of pictorial expressionism corresponded to the extension of the movement, which after the war conquered theater and cinema: the style of the sets was inspired by the paintings. The political and social conditions in Germany were such as to direct the interest of young artists towards a form of testimony more linked to contemporary reality, to the detriment of subjectivity. The tension of the expressionism of the origins is dampened Schmidt-Rottluff will remain one of the artists most faithful to the style of his youth (Man walking down the street, wood engraving, 1923), while Kirchner will leave an uneven production, until his suicide in 1938. Dix undoubtedly gave the most violent images of the post-war period (until 1923), those of a world of exploiters and prostitutes in elbow-to-elbow contact with miserable victims (Skat Players or War Mutilates Playing Cards, 1920: private collection). This vision of the atrocious culminates in the Trench (1920-23, which disappeared during World War II), but we can already see that the balanced simplifications of the pre-war period have been totally replaced by hypernaturalistic descriptive excess.

    In 1923-24, the fifty etchings of War offered the most relentless document on the conflict (Wounded returning to the rear, Battle of the Somme).

    Grosz’s evolution was even more rapid; a member of the Berlin Dada club, he considered caricature a weapon; in him, political struggle prevailed over the creation of new means of expression. Beckmann progressively emptied his compositions in favor of a rather static style, at once evocative and cold (Ball in Baden-Baden, 1923: Munich, private collection). A similar language is adopted by Carl Hofer in his paintings of acrobats, sad clowns who inhabit an abstract universe cut off from its living sources, similar to that of the Weimar Republic (Circus People, c. 1922: Essen, Folkwang Museum).

    In different ways, Käthe Kollwitz and Barlach both contributed to the particular climate of this period with their graphic work. Kollwitz’s long itinerary led her, through her drawings and engravings, from the symbolist realism of the late 20th century to an expressionism of testimony and struggle on behalf of the oppressed (The Widow, wood engraving, c. 1922-23); Barlach, much influenced by Gothic sculpture, suffered particularly from Nazi persecution because of the pessimism of his popular types (The Old Woman with Sticks; The Mower, drawings, 1935). But these two artists still belonged to the 19th century in the early years of their careers.

    The new phenomenon, which became apparent between 1924 and 1925, was the abandonment of expressionism in favor of a New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) or of a magical realism stylistically opposed to expressionism on all points, and of which Dix above all, then Beckmann and Grosz, would become leaders.

    To this art of observation, which exasperates certain effects to the point of the unusual, responds at the same time the birth of Surrealism, which to some extent was to play, at least in its aspect of “premonition”, the same role played by Expressionism before 1914.