GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM THEMES: FANTASY
FantasyBack to all Themes
While fantasy did not play a large role in most Expressionists' work, there were a few artists associated with the movement who took a lyrical, visionary, or fantastical approach to their subjects. In an age rocked by social upheaval, war, and revolution, such dreamlike, illusory worlds presented a welcome alternative to a disappointing or nightmarish reality. Some artists explored themes of sex and violence in images freed from the usual social taboos; others swept away the old world and rebuilt it anew with imaginary cities and architecture.
Sometimes they removed human presence entirely, envisioning unsullied nature populated only with animals or fantastic creatures.
1881 (print executed 1880)
At a skating rink, Klinger retrieves the lost glove of the woman he desires. This glove unleashes a series of fantasies. In this etching, he is flooded with terrifying desire as a monstrously sized glove lurks above him and another reaches for a drowning man.
With only one wing, Klee’s hero is a tragicomic figure who has broken his other limbs in a futile attempt to fly. Part man, part bird, and part nature, his left leg is a tree stump, growing into the ground and preventing any future attempts to conquer the air. One of Klee’s earliest works, this bizarre, obsessively detailed image is a parody of the traditional aesthetic ideals and strict social mores of the period.
In a peaceful landscape, an impossibly huge polar bear stealthily slides along a cliff above a shore and watches a small cottage. Kubin drew this fantastic image on the back of cartographer’s paper, usually used for making maps, subverting the material’s original purpose of documenting the existing world.
Marc created a halcyon world of color populated only by animals. In contrast to the decadence of prewar German society, Marc saw the natural world as a pure, uncorrupted place.
1917 (executed 1907–08)
This illustration provides a peacefully enchanted interlude within Kokoschka’s haunting book about awakening adolescent sexuality in far-off islands. In this fairy tale for adults, Kokoschka wrote, “I fell asleep and dreamt until morning.”
A man who sees a boy hanging in the air, his legs reflected in the pool below, is befuddled as to whether the vision he sees is really there or exists only in his head. A laughing, devilish figure hovers behind a man, amused by the confusion. Eccentric, phantasmagorical figures such as this recur throughout Nolde’s oeuvre, reflecting his predilection for intuitive, even hallucinatory expression.
Klee’s uniquely personal and evocative works often merge his inner visions with his observations of the external world. Here, he creates a dreamlike garden where two of his most prominent themes—the human figure and nature—exist in pure harmony, as fantastical beings grow like flowers from the ground.
In this lithograph depicting the act of fantasizing itself, intense, piercing male eyes are conjuring a mechanized female body and the sexual act reduced to its most physical aspects.
The sizzling orange of these playful figures evokes the crackling intensity of summertime heat. Beginning in his early days working as a caricaturist, Feininger made watercolors such as this one depicting fantastic figures, which he called “grotesques” and “ghosties,” and which he often gave as gifts to family and friends.
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