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GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM THEMES: FANTASY

Fantasy

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While fantasy did not play a large role in most Expressionists' work, there were a few artists associated with the movement who took a lyrical, visionary, or fantastical approach to their subjects. In an age rocked by social upheaval, war, and revolution, such dreamlike, illusory worlds presented a welcome alternative to a disappointing or nightmarish reality. Some artists explored themes of sex and violence in images freed from the usual social taboos; others swept away the old world and rebuilt it anew with imaginary cities and architecture.
<i>Dreams</i>

Max Klinger

Dreams

1884 (executed 1883, first published 1884)

Klinger meticulously rendered dreams and fantasies, creating visions as real as the waking world. In the darkness, a young woman is circled by shadowy figures, some peaceful, some menacing.
<i>Fears</i> (plate VII) from <i>A Glove, Opus VI</i>

Max Klinger

Fears (plate VII) from A Glove, Opus VI

1881 (print executed 1880)

At a skating rink, Klinger retrieves the lost glove of the woman he desires. This glove unleashes a series of fantasies. In this etching, he is flooded with terrifying desire as a monstrously sized glove lurks above him and another reaches for a drowning man.
<i>The Hero with the Wing</i>

Paul Klee

The Hero with the Wing

1905

With only one wing, Klee’s hero is a tragicomic figure who has broken his other limbs in a futile attempt to fly. Part man, part bird, and part nature, his left leg is a tree stump, growing into the ground and preventing any future attempts to conquer the air. One of Klee’s earliest works, this bizarre, obsessively detailed image is a parody of the traditional aesthetic ideals and strict social mores of the period.
<i>Polar Bear</i>

Alfred Kubin

Polar Bear

(1901–02)

In a peaceful landscape, an impossibly huge polar bear stealthily slides along a cliff above a shore and watches a small cottage. Kubin drew this fantastic image on the back of cartographer’s paper, usually used for making maps, subverting the material’s original purpose of documenting the existing world.
<i>Fantastic Creature</i> (plate preceding page 1) from <i>Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider)</i>

Franz Marc

Fantastic Creature (plate preceding page 1) from Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider)

1912

Marc created a halcyon world of color populated only by animals. In contrast to the decadence of prewar German society, Marc saw the natural world as a pure, uncorrupted place.
<i>The Fairytale</i>

Heinrich Campendonk

The Fairytale

1916

Like his friend Franz Marc, Campendonk also conjured peaceful visions of idyllic nature. But unlike Marc, Campendonk found a place for human figures in his rejuvenated world.
<i>The Sleepers</i> (in-text plate, folio 8) from <i>Die träumenden Knaben (The Dreaming Boys)</i>

Oskar Kokoschka

The Sleepers (in-text plate, folio 8) from Die träumenden Knaben (The Dreaming Boys)

1917 (executed 1907–08)

This illustration provides a peacefully enchanted interlude within Kokoschka’s haunting book about awakening adolescent sexuality in far-off islands. In this fairy tale for adults, Kokoschka wrote, “I fell asleep and dreamt until morning.”
<i>People on the Jetty</i>

Lyonel Feininger

People on the Jetty

1918

This delightfully wacky image shows rows of top-hatted ghosts on a jetty. Here, Feininger combines two of his favored themes—seaside landscapes and whimsically amusing figures—that hark back to his days as a caricaturist.
<i>Phantoms</i>

Emil Nolde

Phantoms

(1922)

A man who sees a boy hanging in the air, his legs reflected in the pool below, is befuddled as to whether the vision he sees is really there or exists only in his head. A laughing, devilish figure hovers behind a man, amused by the confusion. Eccentric, phantasmagorical figures such as this recur throughout Nolde’s oeuvre, reflecting his predilection for intuitive, even hallucinatory expression.
<i>Demon above the Ships</i>

Paul Klee

Demon above the Ships

1916

Against the dark blue background of a nighttime sea, Klee constructs a demon from swirling colors that towers above the low-slung ships. Klee’s fantastic use of color was rooted in his real-life travels to Tunisia in 1914.
<i>Flowers in the Wind</i>

Paul Klee

Flowers in the Wind

1922

Klee’s uniquely personal and evocative works often merge his inner visions with his observations of the external world. Here, he creates a dreamlike garden where two of his most prominent themes—the human figure and nature—exist in pure harmony, as fantastical beings grow like flowers from the ground.
<i>The One in Love</i> from <i>Masters' Portfolio of the Staatliches Bauhaus </i>

Paul Klee

The One in Love from Masters' Portfolio of the Staatliches Bauhaus

1923

In this lithograph depicting the act of fantasizing itself, intense, piercing male eyes are conjuring a mechanized female body and the sexual act reduced to its most physical aspects.
<i>Magic Mirror</i> from <i>Day and Dream</i>

Max Beckmann

Magic Mirror from Day and Dream

(1946)

In this late work, Beckmann mixes the real and the imaginary. This mirror provides a conduit to a fantasy world, while the painting below also creates a new world through art.
<i>Hot Weather!</i>

Lyonel Feininger

Hot Weather!

1954

The sizzling orange of these playful figures evokes the crackling intensity of summertime heat. Beginning in his early days working as a caricaturist, Feininger made watercolors such as this one depicting fantastic figures, which he called “grotesques” and “ghosties,” and which he often gave as gifts to family and friends.
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