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2. History and development

Source: Oxford University Press

In the early years of the group’s existence much discussion took place on the various positions of international art, based on the influences that the young artists had come under in Germany, particularly the graphic art of Jugendstil and the work of various Post-Impressionist artists including Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and the Pointillists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, as well as Edvard Munch and Matisse. Another influence was African and Oceanic sculpture, which they saw in the Völkerkundemuseum in Dresden. In 1905 some of the artists exhibited woodcuts and watercolours in Leipzig, and in 1906 Die Brücke held their first group exhibition in the showrooms of a lamp factory in Dresden. They quickly won access to the leading modern art galleries of Dresden and were able to exhibit their works annually: from 1907 until 1909 in Emil Richter’s Kunstsalon; and in 1910 in the Galerie Ernst Arnold. They were soon able to exhibit throughout Germany.

The formation of Die Brücke can be seen from two angles: they not only associated for reasons of principle, to create a new sort of art within the group, but also for practical reasons such as better organization, particularly in exhibitions. Collaboration, which sometimes led to very close stylistic similarities, occurred through communal drawing and painting and the exchange of technical processes in their graphic works. They did not, however, live together in a commune, nor did they all always work together. On the contrary, they often worked in pairs on communal projects. The actual interrelation of their lives was small. They met in their studios with girlfriends and models, whom they painted as they moved about freely. In summer they went into the countryside to paint models in natural surroundings. Among their most famous outings were the periods spent by Heckel, Kirchner and Pechstein at the Moritzburger lakes near Dresden (see Heckel’s Bathers by a Pond (Moritzburg), 1910; Cambridge, MA, Busch-Reisinger Mus.), individual periods spent by Kirchner and Heckel on the Baltic island of Fehmarn and Heckel’s and Schmidt-Rottluff’s time spent in Dangast on the North Sea. Heckel had an especially key role as a communicator within the group and was also in charge of the group’s business activities.

The connection that Die Brücke sought to make between art and life was expressed in a number of ways, including the organization of their own studio apartments. Kirchner and Heckel decorated their studios, which were shops in a working-class district of Dresden, with furniture and sculpture they had carved themselves and painted wall decorations. These studios are documented in many paintings and drawings. The peak of their association, both in terms of communal development and group exhibitions, occurred between 1909 and 1911, when their characteristic style of painting became very two-dimensional and employed luminous colours, as in Schmidt-Rottluff’s Estate in Dangast (1910; Berlin, Neue N.G.). After this the members began to develop very individual styles. After Pechstein moved to Berlin in 1908, over the course of 1911 Heckel, Kirchner and Schmidt-Rottluff followed him. The association became looser; Pechstein was excluded from the group in 1912, after contravening an agreement between the members by showing at an exhibition of the Berlin Secession, which had become highly conservative. In Berlin in 1913 the group was formally dissolved as a result of Kirchner’s account of the history of the group in the Chronik der Künstlergemeinschaft Brücke (Berlin, 1913), in which he portrayed himself as leader. The style associated with Die Brücke, however, was sustained by its originators for many years to come .

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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