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German Expressionism

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GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM STYLES: NEW OBJECTIVITY

New Objectivity

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The New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) emerged as a style in Germany in the 1920s as a challenge to Expressionism. As its name suggests, it offered a return to unsentimental reality and a focus on the objective world, as opposed to the more abstract, romantic, or idealistic tendencies of Expressionism. The style is most often associated with portraiture, and its leading practitioners included Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz. Their mercilessly naturalistic depictions, sometimes reminiscent of the meticulous processes of the Old Masters, frequently portrayed Weimar society in a caustically satirical manner.
The style’s name comes from a groundbreaking exhibition organized by curator Gustav Hartlaub in Mannheim in 1925. Hartlaub's original title for the exhibition was Post-Expressionism.
<i>Self-Portrait with a Cigarette</i>

Max Beckmann

Self-Portrait with a Cigarette

Frankfurt 1923

Beckmann presents himself as a nonchalant, self-assured man of power, dressed in an impeccable suit. Yet even as this self-portrait seemingly provides a direct transcription of reality, Beckmann inserts a nod to the role-playing and life of the stage. Barely visible, on his lap, is a circus costume.
<i>Minette</i>

Max Beckmann

Minette

1922

Beckmann sets his wife Minna in a calm Mediterranean environment, overlooking a peaceful seaside. The harmonious mood lends the portrait a timeless, classical monumentality.
<i>Self-Portrait</i>

Otto Dix

Self-Portrait

1922

Dix turned his calculating and critical eye on himself in this self-portrait. The soft wash of color does not detract from the depiction of an uncompromisingly determined man, with a sharply chiseled jaw and a strong brow.
<i>Mutzli (Portrait of Mrs. Dix)</i>

Otto Dix

Mutzli (Portrait of Mrs. Dix)

(1924)

Dix met Martha (Mutzli) in 1921, while she was still married to his friend Hans Koch. In this portrait, he meticulously renders his elegant and cosmopolitan wife (with her ex-husband, she had briefly run a contemporary art gallery before meeting Dix), detailing every strand and the sheen of her bobbed hair.
<i>Head of a Girl I</i>

Alexander Kanoldt

Head of a Girl I

1927

In contrast to the caustic edge in many works by Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, Kanoldt’s portrait draws on classical sources and presents a peaceful, more harmonious vision of the postwar world.
<i>Dr. Mayer-Hermann</i>

Otto Dix

Dr. Mayer-Hermann

Berlin 1926

Dix provides an exacting description of the interior of a doctor’s office, including the room’s detailed reflection in the shiny medical instrument above the ear, nose, and throat specialist’s head. This precision, however, belies Dix’s distortions of his sitter, whose rotund shape mirrors the round forms around him. In real life, Mayer-Hermann was a dashingly handsome man.
<i>The Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse</i>

George Grosz

The Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse

1927

In this second portrait of his friend, the cabaret critic and writer Max Herrmann-Neisse, Grosz sympathetically details the lines, bumps, veins, gnarls, and ruddiness of his friend's head and hands, placing him almost within arm's reach.
<i>Old Woman</i>

Otto Dix

Old Woman

1932

Here, Dix demonstrated his virtuosic draftsmanship and mastery of the challenging silverpoint medium, a traditional technique that allowed him to capture every line and detail of the old woman’s face.
<i>Café Couple</i>

Otto Dix

Café Couple

1921

Their elegant clothes and demeanor mark this couple as beneficiaries of postwar economic and political shifts. Dix’s unflattering depiction emphasizes the woman’s equine face and does not hide the former officer’s war injuries, including a glass eye and scarred cheek.
<i>Here Is Intellect</i>

Max Beckmann

Here Is Intellect

(1921)

In this nightclub scene, Beckmann focuses a critical eye on the deficiencies of postwar society—and applies a title that is patently ironic. A well-dressed man, who has had a bit too much champagne, drunkenly points at the place where his brain should be, while his companions laughingly look on.
<i>Carnival in Berlin N III</i>

Jeanne Mammen

Carnival in Berlin N III

(c. 1930)

Mammen presents a less caustic take on Berlin’s pleasures in this view of the costumed and alcohol-fueled revelries preceding the penitence of Lent. The tightly packed space and acrid colors convey the body heat and stale air of a club in the early morning hours.
<i>Circe</i>

George Grosz

Circe

1927

Grosz’s outrageous caricature of café society in the 1920s shows a boorish, impeccably clad man and a nearly naked woman who must rely on her body—her only remaining asset—to survive.
<i>Dawn</i> from <i>In the Shadows</i>

George Grosz

Dawn from In the Shadows

(1920/21, published 1921)

Grosz presents two contrasting sides of life in postwar Berlin. In the early morning, sympathetically rendered workers trudge off to another long day of labor, while gluttonous men in tuxedos gorge themselves on food, wine, and women in a brothel.
<i>Newspaper Carrier</i>

Georg Scholz

Newspaper Carrier

(1921, published 1923)

Scholz pilloried Germany’s industrialists and moneyed elites in mordant caricatures such as this, made in the immediate postwar years. Gaunt and dejected, a father and son barely subsist by peddling newspapers, while a self-satisfied fat cat leisurely smokes a cigar in the backseat of his gleaming new automobile.
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