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German Expressionism

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MoMA

GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM THEMES: WAR

War

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<i>Declaration of War</i>
LEFT

Max Beckmann

Declaration of War

1914

RIGHT

Max Beckmann

Weeping Woman

(1914, published 1918)

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.
<i>The Grenade</i>

Max Beckmann

The Grenade

(1915, published 1918)

Beckmann's nearly abstract tangle of lines helps convey chaos in this bombing scene. Exaggerated foreshortening and Mannerist distortions add to the sense of collapse and confusion.
<i>Explosion</i>

George Grosz

Explosion

1917

Grosz's image of a burning, shattered Berlin is an allegory of destruction created shortly after he was discharged from the German army as "permanently unfit."
<i>Evening Patrol</i>

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Evening Patrol

(1915)

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.
<i>The Soldier</i>

Christian Rohlfs

The Soldier

(c. 1914)

Created near the beginning of the war, when patriotic spirits ran high, Rohlfs's fist-pumping, rifle-wielding soldier rushes to action.
<i>Prisoner</i>

Christian Rohlfs

Prisoner

(1918)

Rohlfs's gaunt, emaciated prisoner epitomizes the helplessness many Germans felt by the end of the war.
<i>Wounded Sailor</i>

Erich Heckel

Wounded Sailor

1915

Heckel was stationed in Belgium with the Red Cross medical corps. This woodcut depicts one of the injured sailors in his care. Turning away from us, with eyes lowered in resignation, his head is placed against a white cruciform shape, as if to imply martyrdom.
<i>Morgue</i>

Max Beckmann

Morgue

(1922, published 1924)

Beckmann served in the medical corps in Belgium but was discharged following a nervous breakdown in 1915. The memory of corpses laid out anonymously on tables still affected him seven years later, when he made this print.
Cover from the portfolio <i>God with Us</i>
LEFT

George Grosz

Cover from the portfolio God with Us

(1919, published 1920)

RIGHT

George Grosz

German Doctors Fighting the Blockade

(1918, 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.
<i>Wounded Man (Autumn 1916, Bapaume)</i> from <i>The War</i>
LEFT

Otto Dix

Wounded Man (Autumn 1916, Bapaume) from The War

(1924)

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.
<i>The Parents</i> (plate 3) from <i>War</i>

Käthe Kollwitz

The Parents (plate 3) from War

(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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