GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM STYLES: NEW OBJECTIVITY
New ObjectivityBack to all Styles
The New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) emerged as a style in Germany in the 1920s as a challenge to Expressionism. As its name suggests, it offered a return to unsentimental reality and a focus on the objective world, as opposed to the more abstract, romantic, or idealistic tendencies of Expressionism. The style is most often associated with portraiture, and its leading practitioners included Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz. Their mercilessly naturalistic depictions, sometimes reminiscent of the meticulous processes of the Old Masters, frequently portrayed Weimar society in a caustically satirical manner.
The style’s name comes from a groundbreaking exhibition organized by curator Gustav Hartlaub in Mannheim in 1925. Hartlaub's original title for the exhibition was Post-Expressionism.
Beckmann presents himself as a nonchalant, self-assured man of power, dressed in an impeccable suit. Yet even as this self-portrait seemingly provides a direct transcription of reality, Beckmann inserts a nod to the role-playing and life of the stage. Barely visible, on his lap, is a circus costume.
Dix met Martha (Mutzli) in 1921, while she was still married to his friend Hans Koch. In this portrait, he meticulously renders his elegant and cosmopolitan wife (with her ex-husband, she had briefly run a contemporary art gallery before meeting Dix), detailing every strand and the sheen of her bobbed hair.
Dix provides an exacting description of the interior of a doctor’s office, including the room’s detailed reflection in the shiny medical instrument above the ear, nose, and throat specialist’s head. This precision, however, belies Dix’s distortions of his sitter, whose rotund shape mirrors the round forms around him. In real life, Mayer-Hermann was a dashingly handsome man.
In this nightclub scene, Beckmann focuses a critical eye on the deficiencies of postwar society—and applies a title that is patently ironic. A well-dressed man, who has had a bit too much champagne, drunkenly points at the place where his brain should be, while his companions laughingly look on.
Mammen presents a less caustic take on Berlin’s pleasures in this view of the costumed and alcohol-fueled revelries preceding the penitence of Lent. The tightly packed space and acrid colors convey the body heat and stale air of a club in the early morning hours.
(1920/21, published 1921)
Grosz presents two contrasting sides of life in postwar Berlin. In the early morning, sympathetically rendered workers trudge off to another long day of labor, while gluttonous men in tuxedos gorge themselves on food, wine, and women in a brothel.
(1921, published 1923)
Scholz pilloried Germany’s industrialists and moneyed elites in mordant caricatures such as this, made in the immediate postwar years. Gaunt and dejected, a father and son barely subsist by peddling newspapers, while a self-satisfied fat cat leisurely smokes a cigar in the backseat of his gleaming new automobile.
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