Extreme angles, flattened forms, garish colors, and distorted views distinguish Expressionism, an international movement in art, architecture, literature, and performance that flourished between 1905 and 1920, especially in Germany and Austria. Starting in 1905, as industry grew in Europe, the Expressionists migrated to cities. There they formed groups such as Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), shared studios, exhibited together, and published their work and writing.
The Expressionists sought to depict the world as it felt rather than how it looked, and, by doing so, to reinvigorate art with authenticity and expressive force. They rejected the dominant stylistic conventions and subject matter of German visual culture at the turn of the 20th century, instead looking to the boldly colorful, introspective paintings of the Post-Impressionists and to fellow German and Austrian artists who explored the darker side of life and the artistic imagination in their work. Many Expressionists also found early inspiration in the flat patterning and bold forms of The New Art movement.
In their quest for authenticity, the Expressionists also looked for inspiration beyond European art and culture to native folk traditions and tribal art. They frequented ethnographic museums and world’s fairs, where they encountered collections of African and Oceanic art. Reflecting a common attitude of the time, the Expressionists perceived non-Western art as “primitive,” unevolved, and therefore closer to the origins of humanity. They borrowed stylistically from what they saw—including geometric ornamentation, decorative patterning, and flattened planes. As Germany neared the onset of World War I, more elements of the grotesque appeared in Expressionist work. Expressionists embraced printmaking as a way to quickly distribute work to a larger audience and as a means of promoting or criticizing social or political causes.
General agreement on or acceptance of certain practices or attitudes; a widely used and accepted device or technique, as in drama, literature, or visual art.
The science, art, or profession of designing and constructing buildings, bridges, and other large structures.
Characterized by ludicrous, repulsive, or incongruous distortion, as of appearance or manner; ugly, outlandish, or bizarre, as in character or appearance.
A term coined in 1910 by the English art critic and painter Roger Fry and applied to the reaction against the naturalistic depiction of light and color in Impressionism, led by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. Though each of these artists developed his own, distinctive style, they were unified by their interest in expressing their emotional and psychological responses to the world through bold colors and expressive, often symbolic images. Post-Impressionism can be roughly dated from 1886 to 1905.
The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.
A term initially used to refer to the arts of all of Africa, Asia, and Pre-Columbian America, later used mostly to refer to art from Africa and the Pacific Islands. By the late 20th century the term, with its derogatory connotations, fell out of favor.
A flat or level surface.
A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).
A term referring to the islands of the southern, western, and central Pacific Ocean, including Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The term is sometimes extended to encompass Australia, New Zealand, and the Malay Archipelago.
The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.
A distinctive or characteristic manner of expression.
A work of art on paper that usually exists in multiple copies. It is created not by drawing directly on paper, but through a transfer process. The artist begins by creating a composition on another surface, such as metal or wood, and the transfer occurs when that surface is inked and a sheet of paper, placed in contact with it, is run through a printing press. Four common printmaking techniques are woodcut, etching, lithography, and screenprint.
A series of events, objects, or compositional elements that repeat in a predictable manner.
Accessories, decoration, adornment, or details that have been applied to an object or structure to beautify its appearance.
Resembling or using the simple rectilinear or curvilinear lines used in geometry.
The shape or structure of an object.
Encompasses varying stylistic approaches that emphasize intense personal expression. Renouncing the stiff bourgeois social values that prevailed at the turn of the 20th century, and rejecting the traditions of the state-sponsored art academies, Expressionist artists turned to boldly simplified or distorted forms and exaggerated, sometimes clashing colors. As Expressionism evolved from the beginning of the 20th century through the early 1920s, its crucial themes and genres reflected deeply humanistic concerns and an ambivalent attitude toward modernity, eventually confronting the devastating experience of World War I and its aftermath.
The artists’ group Die Brücke was established in 1905, a moment that is recognized as the birth of Expressionism. The affiliated artists often turned to simplified or distorted forms and unusually strong, unnatural colors to jolt the viewer and provoke an emotional response. Its leading members were Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. The name Brücke (“bridge”) reflects these artists’ youthful eagerness to cross into a new future. The Brücke artists worked together communally until 1913.
Formed in 1911 in Munich as an association of painters and an exhibiting society led by Vasily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. Using a visual vocabulary of abstract forms and prismatic colors, Blaue Reiter artists explored the spiritual values of art as a counter to [what they saw as] the corruption and materialism of their age. The name, meaning “blue rider,” refers to a key motif in Kandinsky’s work: the horse and rider. The group, which published an influential almanac by the same name, dissolved with the onset of World War I.
The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.
An international, middle-class artistic movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that emphasized the unity of the arts and sought to reflect the intensive psychic and sensory stimuli of the modern city. Although it influenced painting and sculpture, the movement’s chief manifestations were in design, performance art, and architecture. Variants in cities throughout Europe and the US accrued labels such as Arte Nova, Glasgow Style, Stile Liberty, and Arte Modernista. The version commonly referred to as Art Nouveau flourished in France and Belgium and was characterized by sinuous, asymmetrical lines based on organic forms. Its more rectilinear counterpart, called Jugendstil or Secession style, flourished concurrently in Germany and Central Europe.