Expressionism

The term "Expressionism" first emerged as a way to classify new types of art that emphasized emotional impact over descriptive accuracy.

c. 1905 - 1914

Beginner's guide

Though many artists of the early twentieth century can accurately be called Expressionists, two groups that developed in Germany, Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), are among the best known and help to define the style.

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Paula Modersohn-Becker, <em>Self-Portrait Nude with Amber Necklace, Half-Length I</em>
Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait Nude with Amber Necklace, Half-Length I

Modersohn-Becker almost single-handedly invented a new genre in European modern art: the nude, female self-portrait.

Expressionism as Nordic?
Expressionism as Nordic?

The German Expressionist Emil Nolde was particularly explicit in linking himself to a Nordic tradition.

Franz Marc and the animalization of art
Franz Marc and the animalization of art

Marc looked all the way back to a state of nature before humankind even existed.

Kandinsky, Apocalypse, Abstraction
Kandinsky, Apocalypse, Abstraction

Kandinsky believed that humankind was on the verge of a cataclysmic change from the current, materialistic epoch to an “Epoch of the Great Spiritual.”

Der Blaue Reiter
Der Blaue Reiter

The figure of the Blue Rider thus embodied the spiritual focus of the group as well as their belief that art plays an important social role in the struggle between good and evil.

Nazi looting: Egon Schiele’s <em>Portrait of Wally</em>
Nazi looting: Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally

This portrait is one of thousands stolen by the Nazis, and its story shows that the madness didn’t end with WWII.

Expressionism, an introduction
Expressionism, an introduction

Not a term chosen by the artists, it describes art that emphasized the emotional impact over descriptive accuracy.

Vasily Kandinsky, <em>Klänge (Sounds)</em>
Vasily Kandinsky, Klänge (Sounds)

Kandinsky’s work of “total art” combines both abstract and representational images with rhythmic, mystical poetry.

Emil Nolde, <em>Young Couple</em>
Emil Nolde, Young Couple

In a series of multicolored prints, Nolde captured the awkward experience of watching a couple fight in public.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, <em>Street, Berlin</em>
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street, Berlin

Kirchner’s claustrophobic city scene reflects on a culture where everything is for sale.

Egon Schiele, <em>Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait)</em>
Egon Schiele, Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait)

The body’s expressive contortions reflect sculptural tradition, but Schiele used it to express the interior self.

Egon Schiele, <em>The Hermits</em>
Egon Schiele, The Hermits

Is Schiele’s haunted figure meant to be a famed Austrian artist or Jesus Christ—or both?

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