The Künstlergruppe Brücke was founded on 7 June 1905 in Dresden by four architecture students: Fritz Bleyl (1880–1966), Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt (later Schmidt-Rottluff). They were joined by other German and European artists, including Max Pechstein, Cuno Amiet and Lambertus Zijl in 1906, Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1907, Kees van Dongen and Franz Nölken in 1908, Bohumil Kubišta and Otto Mueller in 1910; Emil Nolde was a temporary member (1906–7). Kirchner and Bleyl had become friends in 1901 as architecture students at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden. Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff had met while at school in Chemnitz. Through Heckel’s brother Manfred they met Kirchner while studying architecture in Dresden c. 1904. They were united by a common aim to break new boundaries in art.
The four founder-members were self-taught as artists, their only training from private drawing lessons. They nevertheless acted as a group immediately, seeing themselves as pioneers who would change the world from its very basis and revive art. In their first manifesto, which they called a Programm (1906), they named the impulses behind their work: faith in the future, the strength of youth, the value of directness and authenticity, and the rejection of the older forces of the establishment. Although the use of pure colour and a more two-dimensional treatment of subject-matter had obvious similarities with Fauvist art, and in particular that of Henri Matisse, whose work the group saw at an exhibition in Berlin in 1908, the artists of Die Brücke aimed to encompass all life, rather than just the field of art, with their radical stance.
The art of Die Brücke was accompanied by a philosophical demand for totality. The writings of Friedrich Nietzsche were important, and both their name and the stylized imagery of the bridge motif were linked to the writer’s Also sprach Zarathustra. The idea for the name was later attributed to Schmidt-Rottluff, who considered it appropriate as signifying leading from one shore to another; the group as a whole felt that it stood for the image of the bridge leading to new worlds, a representation that appeared in vignettes, on invitation cards or other printed matter produced by the group in 1905 and 1906.
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