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Expressionist Portraits

Expressionist portraits reveal more than just what people look like.


Portrait of a Man (Männerbildnis)

Erich Heckel
(German, 1883–1970)

1919. Woodcut, composition: 18 3/16 x 12 3/4" (46.2 x 32.4 cm); sheet (irreg.): 24 1/4 x 20" (61.6 x 50.8 cm)

In Portrait of a Man, Erich Heckel inscribes the traumas of the war years and the uncertainties of the postwar period onto his own troubled face. This gaunt self-portrait, made one year after the end of World War I, embodies a physical and spiritual weariness that was both personal and national.

Heckel was a founding member of Die Brücke (the bridge), an artistic movement formed in Dresden, Germany, in 1905. Artists in that movement rejected the prevalent traditional style in favor of a new artistic expression that would form a bridge (hence the name) between the past and the present. Woodcut printing has a long history in Germany, beginning in the 15th century; Heckel and his Die Brücke colleagues revived the technique, producing an enormous number of woodcut prints.

A term loosely applied to any printmaking technique involving a relief image cut into the surface of a wooden block. The wood is covered with ink and applied to a sheet of paper; only the uncut areas of the block will print, while the cut away areas do not receive ink and appear white on the printed image.

A representation of oneself made by oneself.

Artist group active in Dresden, Germany, from 1905 to 1913, and closely associated with the development of Expressionism. The group is associated with an interest in the distortion of reality and expressive use of color to respond to the turmoil of modern urban society.