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German Expressionism

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GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM STYLES: OTHER EXPRESSIONISTS

Other Expressionists

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In addition to the major artists' groups (Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter) and trends (Austrian Expressionism and New Objectivity) associated with Expressionism, there were also a number of Expressionists who worked more autonomously. Although some were associated with particular groups at certain moments in their careers, during other periods they worked on a more individual track.
<i>Dancer</i>

Wilhelm Lehmbruck

Dancer

Paris 1913

Lehmbruck’s key theme was the nude body and its potential to reveal the human condition through sinuous motion and lithe gestures. His move to Paris, in 1910, marked a shift in his style, and he distanced himself from his earlier, academic approach. The outbreak of World War I forced his return to Germany, where he exhibited with the Berlin Secession and other modernist groups. Writer Theodor Däubler later called Lehmbruck’s work “the preface to Expressionism in sculpture.”
<i>Apparition</i>

Wilhelm Lehmbruck

Apparition

(1914)

Lehmbruck pursued raw emotion rather than naturalistic accuracy. In his prints, he rapidly adumbrated contours of the body and used the burr of the drypoint to depict texture, highlighting the strained musculature of a body exerting all its strength to hold its beloved, and capturing the softness of female flesh and the fuzz of hair. Lehmbruck made this ambiguous image of a woman watching two embracing lovers at a time of deep emotional despair brought about by his unhappy marriage and love for another woman.
<i>Two Dancers</i>

Christian Rohlfs

Two Dancers

(c. 1913, published 1923)

Rohlfs did not belong to any of the major Expressionist artists’ groups, although his friendship with Emil Nolde led him to discover the work of the Brücke artists, which inspired him to make his first prints in 1908, at age 60. Two Dancers is typical of his early graphic work, in which his primary subject was lighthearted variations on bodies in motion. With two exceptions, all of his prints were either woodcut or linoleum cut, which he printed by hand.
<i>Christ and the Children</i>

Emil Nolde

Christ and the Children

1910

Known for his strong temperament, Nolde mostly charted his own path. He joined the Brücke group in 1906 but left, on friendly terms, after only a year. His split from the Berlin Secession, in 1910, was less than amicable, prompted by controversy over one of his religious paintings. Christ with the Children exhibits the same frenetic brushwork and garish coloring. For Nolde these stylistic techniques were meant to emphasize fervent religious passion, but others in Berlin’s modernist art world found them inappropriate to such hallowed subjects.
<i>Prophet</i>

Emil Nolde

Prophet

(1912)

Nolde’s intensely brooding prophet is a solitary figure, burning with a zeal that matches the passion of the artist himself. None of the impressions of Prophet are exactly the same, thanks to Nolde’s attention to papers, inks, and variations inherent in the hand-printing process. His unconventional approach to woodcut stemmed from his brief association with the Brücke artists, which had lasting effects on his printmaking. Nolde made his first woodcuts under the tutelage of Kirchner in 1906, and later that year Schmidt-Rottluff helped him acquire his own press. Here, he exploited the wood’s pronounced grain and the jagged gouges of the carving process to heighten the sense of raw emotion.
<i>Dancer</i>

Emil Nolde

Dancer

1913

Dancer was Nolde’s favorite of 13 lithographs he made in 1913 while in residence at the Westphalen printshop in northern Germany. It combines several of his key themes: the depiction of unbridled emotion, the freedom embodied by dance, the desires expressed by unfettered eroticism, and a fascination with the peoples and cultures beyond Europe’s borders.
<i>Uprising</i>

Lyonel Feininger

Uprising

1910

Feininger imagines a world gone mad in Uprising, unleashing a motley band of insurrectionists onto a French village. He had only recently devoted himself to a career as a fine artist, but his background as a caricaturist and illustrator of comic strips surfaces in the unusual juxtapositions, jarring shifts of scale, and use of vibrant color. In 1912, he became friends with artists of the Brücke group and exhibited with Der Blaue Reiter.
<i>The Nun</i>

Otto Dix

The Nun

1914

Dix later described this painting, made before his transformative experiences as a soldier in World War I, as “completely characteristic” of his early work. Focusing on the inner turmoil of the nun, which is heightened by his emotionally charged use of color, Dix combines the Expressionist interest in intense psychological states with Cubist spatial strategies and Futurist dynamism. After the war, Dix distanced himself from his initial Expressionist approach. He focused on caustic yet brutally realistic depictions of Weimar society and often used meticulous techniques characteristic of Old Master paintings.
<i>Descent from the Cross</i>

Max Beckmann

Descent from the Cross

1917

After the trauma of World War I, Beckmann turned away from the painterly naturalism and youthful optimism of his earlier work. In a 1917 exhibition catalogue, he exhorted others to “be a child of your time.” The blackened sun, physical torment, and spiritual despair depicted in this painting leave little doubt as to the tenor of his age or the subject matter that Beckmann would thereafter pursue. The deformed bodies and grotesque color are indebted to both Expressionism and Renaissance German and Netherlandish painting.
<i>The Grenade</i>

Max Beckmann

The Grenade

(1915, published 1918)

World War I had a profound influence on Beckmann, who jettisoned his earlier naturalistic approach in favor of expressive distortions of space and form that laid bare the traumas of war. As he wrote to his wife at the time, “I suffer with every shot and have the wildest visions.” Grenade gives shape to wartime fears and terrors. Its asynchronous depiction of the explosion’s events conveys chaos, as some soldiers already lie dying while others run for cover. Beckmann’s greatest engagement with printmaking was during the war and the tumultuous early years of the Weimar Republic.
<i>Metropolis</i>

George Grosz

Metropolis

1917

Like so many of his generation, Grosz was radicalized by his experiences in World War I. He recalled, “My nerves were shot even before seeing the decaying corpses and stinging barbed wire at the front.” Upon returning to Berlin after his discharge in 1915, Grosz depicted the city as a place as hellish and disorienting as the battlefield. The city is bathed in fiery colors and built on an unstable fundament that seems ready to collapse. Grosz soon moved away from this Expressionist approach and focused on Dadaist provocations and caustic satires of the ruling classes.
<i>O Moon Above So Clear!</i>

Ludwig Meidner

O Moon Above So Clear!

1912

A transplant from a sleepy town in eastern Prussia, Meidner embraced the surging energy of metropolitan Berlin. This drawing shows the artist’s enthusiasm for his nocturnal ramblings through the city’s seedier sides. Meidner often used tilting planes and unstable compositions to suggest a world toeing the edge of apocalypse. He was involved with many Expressionist literary and artistic circles, including the Galerie Der Sturm. He cofounded a group, the Pathetiker (named for its focus on Nietzschean pathos), and hosted weekly meetings that attracted a range of artists and writers, including George Grosz and Conrad Felixmüller.
<i>Death, Woman, and Child</i>

Käthe Kollwitz

Death, Woman, and Child

(1910, printed c. 1931 or after)

Kollwitz once stated, “Expression is all that is important to me.” She stood apart from the major Expressionist artists’ groups, however, and her work always remained wedded to the recognizable depiction of the human figure and condition. Foremost, Kollwitz used her art to give voice to society’s most vulnerable members: women, children, the elderly, and the downtrodden. Without resorting to formal distortion, Kollwitz created powerful scenes of intense emotion, such as in Death, Woman, and Child, which embodied all the fears of a mother (here, a self-portrait) for her child (modeled by her younger son, Peter).
<i>The Parents</i> (plate 3) from <i>War</i>

Käthe Kollwitz

The Parents (plate 3) from War

(1921–22, published 1923)

In the woodcuts Kollwitz made for her portfolio War, she stripped away all inessential elements to focus on the pain caused by World War I. She lost her own younger son, Peter, to the fighting, and these prints transform her personal grief into public indictments of the suffering inflicted by war. Here, the grieving parents huddle in a black mass that Kollwitz simplified through various states to achieve a darkness in form equal to the emotional void of the subject.
<i>Self-Portrait</i> (plate 24) from the illustrated book <i>Deutsche Graphiker der Gegenwart (German Printmakers of Our Time)</i>

Conrad Felixmüller

Self-Portrait (plate 24) from the illustrated book Deutsche Graphiker der Gegenwart (German Printmakers of Our Time)

1920 (print executed 1919)

Fifty years younger than the oldest contributor to the anthology where this woodcut appeared, the prodigiously talented Felixmüller enjoyed his first successes while still a teenager. First associated with the Expressionist literary and artistic circles around Herwarth Walden’s Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin, he became radicalized by the war. Returning to Dresden, he founded various communist artists’ groups. His Expressionist works are characterized by a monumental planarity and stark contrasts of black and white, as in this self-portrait.
<i>Self-Portrait with Palette</i>

Lovis Corinth

Self-Portrait with Palette

April 1924

Painted a little more than a year before Corinth died, this self-portrait shows the artist still full of vigor, as he pauses briefly before an easel. In his late work, naturalism yielded to a vibrant handling of color and emotionally charged brushwork. He was exceptionally productive in the last years of his life, despite ongoing physical limitations from a stroke suffered in 1911. In addition to painting and drawing, he vigorously embraced printmaking, which offered the promise of financial reward during economically uncertain years after the end of World War I.
<i>The Cathedrals</i> from <i>The Transformations of God (Die Wandlungen Gottes)</i>

Ernst Barlach

The Cathedrals from The Transformations of God (Die Wandlungen Gottes)

(1922, executed 1920–21)

Part of a portfolio Barlach made to show the unity of all creation, The Cathedrals depicts God surveying the world created by man. Barlach populated his work on paper and sculpture with bulky, angular figures that evoke rural simplicity and monumental timelessness. Although he left Berlin in 1910, Barlach retained the staunch support of publisher and dealer Paul Cassirer, who especially encouraged him to make print portfolios and illustrated books.
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