GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM THEMES: PORTRAITS
PortraitsBack to all Themes
Such highly distilled images are marked by provocatively exaggerated features, gestures, and expressions. Formal distortions and an emphasis on the physical characteristics of a chosen medium further heightened such effects.
Kollwitz made this self-portrait as a birthday present for her husband Karl who, along with her sons, claimed not to see any resemblance. One of a large number of self-portraits she created over the course of her career, it is an image of brooding introspection verging on melancholy—attitudes that permeate her oeuvre overall.
Kokoschka removed art historians Hans Tietze and Erika Tietze-Conrat from the everyday realities of fin-de-siècle Vienna, setting them within a fiery, electrically charged atmosphere that focused all attention on their vibrating hands and tense psychological state.
(1914, published 1922)
Arthur Roessler, an important Viennese art critic and Schiele’s key supporter, encouraged Schiele to try printmaking, and even provided the money and materials required for Schiele’s experiments in the new medium.
Girl's Head (plate, after p. 114) from the periodical Genius. Zeitschrift für werdende und alte Kunst, vol. 2, no. 1
1920 (print executed 1913)
These are two examples from a large number of works by Heckel depicting his girlfriend (and, after 1915, wife) Sidi Riha, who was convalescing from a long illness when these prints were made. In the drypoint Girl with High Hat she appears in a fashionable outfit in Heckel’s studio. By contrast, the stark woodcut Girl’s Head captures the psychological and physical tolls of her illness.
(1916, published 1919)
In a print Beckmann called one of his best works, the artist appears tucked between Ugi and Fridel Battenberg, friends with whom he often spent time in Frankfurt. Beckmann himself noted the “latent erotic mood” that surges through this image. Ugi is absorbed in his drink, unaware of (or merely ignoring) the sexual tension between his wife and friend.
The elegant figure Marie-Luise Binswanger, the stepmother of Kirchner’s psychiatrist, fills the irregularly shaped woodcut. Ludwig Schames was an art dealer and a major promoter of Kirchner’s work; the nude behind him might be one of Kirchner’s own wood sculptures.
Kokoschka conveys the vitality and monumental personality of Maria Orska with quick lines that realistically depict her lively smile and swirl of hair. Orska was a famous actress who appeared in a number of theater productions by Max Reinhardt—who had directed several of Kokoschka’s plays as well.
Grosz details the lines, bumps, veins, gnarls, and ruddiness of his friend Max Herrmann-Neisse’s head and hands, placing him almost within arm’s reach. Grosz and Herrmann-Neisse, a poet and Berlin’s leading cabaret critic, shared the same politics, sense of humor, and cynical outlook.
Through self-portraits made over her entire career, Kollwitz recorded her anxieties as a mother and her grief as a witness to the devastation of poverty, war, and social injustice. After all these trials, including the loss of her son Peter in World War I, she shows herself in this print finally ready to yield to Death, whose extended hand is within her grasp.
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