In the years before World War I, artists in Germany and Austria developed a provocative new approach based on high-pitched color and jarring distortions of form. Their focus on the human figure was in part a reaction to the rapid transformations affecting society—industrialization and urbanization, as well as changing attitudes toward sexuality.
Expressionism, as such work came to be known, emerged in several distinct artistic centers. These included Vienna, where Egon Schiele forged a brand of searingly psychological portraiture; Munich, where Vasily Kandinsky and others associated with Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) emphasized the spiritual values they found in nature and folk culture; and Dresden, where Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and others in the Brücke (Bridge) group created scenes of their daily life that were, as Kirchner recalled, “strange to the normal person . . . [and] driven by a totally naive, pure need to bring art and life into harmony with each other.” A desire for intensely personal expression and emotional authenticity unified the impulses of these artists.