German Expressionism History

German Expressionism refers to two art movements that emerged in the early 20th century and focused on the emotional qualities of paintings brought out by vivid colors and distorted shapes. Some scholars group these two movements-Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter-together with a subsequent movement, New Objectivity, even though the latter explicitly viewed itself as a reaction against German Expressionism as a whole.

Die Brücke And Der Blaue Reiter: Two movements generally comprised German Expressionism-Die Brücke (The Bridge), founded in 1905 in Dresden, and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), founded in 1911 in Munich. The paintings of both movements shared a common intense, often jarring coloration and, as with any Expressionistic art, emphasized the emotional qualities of art over any representation of physical reality. Art from Die Brücke tended to focus more on social themes, whether present-day or historical, while Der Blaue Reiter's artists tended toward abstraction and primeval themes. Both ended as the tensions leading to World War I grew, but they exerted a heavy influence on art movements thereafter, including Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.

Expressionist Painters: Of the many painters within German Expressionism, three stand out as most exemplary of this art movement. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) was a founding member of Die Brücke. His paintings, featuring jarring colors and severe angles, often revealed a dark, disturbing society through portraits and street scenes. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Franz Marc (1880-1916) were co-founders of Der Blaue Reiter. Kandinsky's career as a painter progressed through many stages, but his most renowned work was highly improvisational and dynamic in both composition and coloration. Marc's work also displayed a dynamic sense of movement and an intensely saturated multitude of colors.

Otto Dix And The New Objectivists: Between the World Wars arose the "New Objectivity" movement in Germany, ostensibly in opposition to the pre-war German Expressionism. Of the two strains of New Objectivity, Magic Realism was more clearly divergent from Expressionism, as its paintings were highly representational depictions of ordinary life. A second group of artists-the Verists-departed from German Expressionism in their intentionally direct grappling with social ills and highly political nature.

Whereas contemporary social undercurrents might have been implied in Kirchner's paintings, New Objectivist painters like Otto Dix (1891-1969) put social issues at the center of their paintings. Moreover, while Verist painters distorted shapes and colors for the sake of enhancing the "reality" they depicted, the colors and angularity of their paintings were understated when compared to earlier German Expressionism.

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