GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM THEMES: WAR
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But the misery and destruction went on far longer than most had ever anticipated, destroying millions of lives and shattering the sense of vitality and optimism that originally gave birth to Expressionism.
When World War I broke out in August 1914, many Expressionists initially believed it could be the apocalyptic event that would at last overthrow the self-satisfied materialism of the nation’s monarchy and bourgeoisie. Many artists enlisted for active duty or were drafted; others avoided the front lines by volunteering for the medical corps.
Beckmann's etchings, created just after the war broke out, reveal his sense of apprehension. The figures huddled together in Declaration of War look at a newspaper announcing the official outbreak of war. The Weeping Woman is thought to be Beckmann's mother-in-law, whose son, Martin Tube, was killed in action in October 1914.
Created shortly after his discharge following a nervous breakdown, Evening Patrol refers to the riding instruction Kirchner received in the military. The anxiety of his service is conveyed in the nervous energy of his gestural style. Kirchner suffered from medical and psychological problems for the rest of his life as a result of the war.
(1919, published 1920)
Grosz's portfolio caustically satirizes the brutality and pomposity of the German military. The title "God with Us" mocks the slogan that was inscribed on German soldiers' regulation belt buckles. In the plate titled German Doctors Fighting the Blockade, a skeletal "patient" is pronounced "KV" (short for "kriegsverwendungsfähig," or "fit for service") while two privileged noncommissioned officers blithely smoke and chortle together in the foreground.
Dix served as a machine gunner from 1914 to 1918 and saw combat on both the Eastern and Western fronts. He created the fifty unflinching detailed etchings for this portfolio several years after the war ended, basing them largely on his grisly memories. Dix exploited the corrosive nature of etching and aquatint—mediums in which acid etches an artist's image into a metal printing plate—to heighten the sense of decay.
(1921–22, published 1923)
Unlike most war images, which highlight the military or the battlefield, Kollwitz's focused on the anguish of the parents and loved ones who suffered on the home front. By starkly simplifying and isolating her figures in this woodcut, she concentrates their emotion and makes it universal.
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