At the end of the 19th century, this Expressionist spirit resurfaced in the paintings of two awkward and isolated personalities – one was the Dutchman, Vincent Van Gogh and the other a Norwegian, Edvard Munch. While the Impressionists were admiring the color and beauty of the natural landscape, Van Gogh and Munch took a radically different perspective. They chose to look inwards to discover a form of ‘self-expression’ that offered them an individual voice in a world that they perceived as both insecure and hostile.
It was this more subjective search for a personal emotional truth that drove them on and ultimately paved the way for the Expressionist art forms of the 20th century that explored the inner landscape of the soul. ORIGIN OF THE TERM: While the word expressionist was used in the modern sense as early as 1850, its origin is sometimes traced to paintings exhibited in 1901 in Paris by an obscure artist Julien-Auguste Herve, which he called Expressionisms. Though
an alternate view is that the term was coined by the Czech art historian Antonin Matejcek in 1910, as the opposite of impressionism: “An Expressionist wishes, above all, to express him immediate perception and builds on more complex psychic structures. Impressions and mental images that pass through mental peoples soul as through a filter which rids them of all substantial accretions to produce their clear essence are assimilated and condense into more general forms, into types, which he transcribes through simple short-hand formulae and symbols.
” In 1905, a group of four German artists, led by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, formed Die Brucke (the Bridge) in the city of Dresden. This was arguably the founding organization for the German Expressionist movement, though they did not use the word itself. A few years later, in 1911, a like-minded group of young artists formed Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich. The name came from Wassily Kandinsky’s Der Blaue Reiter painting of 1903. Among their members were Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, and Auguste Macke.
However, the term Expressionism did not firmly establish itself until 1913. Though initially mainly a German artistic movement, most predominant in painting, poetry and the theatre between 1910-30, most precursors of the movement were not German. Furthermore there have been expressionist writers of prose fiction, as well as non-German speaking expressionist writers, and, while the movement had declined in Germany with the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, there were subsequent expressionist works.
PORTRAIT OF EDUARD KOSMACK BY EGON SCHIELE What, however, can be said, is that it was a movement that developed in the early twentieth-century mainly in Germany in reaction to the dehumanizing effect of industrialization and the growth of cities, and that “one of the central means by which expressionism identifies itself as an avant-garde movement, and by which it marks its distance to traditions and the cultural institution as a whole is through its relationship to realism and the dominant conventions of representation.
” More explicitly: that the expressionists rejected the ideology of realism. “VIEW OF TOLEDO” BY EL GRECO, 1595/1610 has been indicated to have a particularly striking resemblance to 20th-century expressionism. Historically however it is an example of Mannerism. Expressionism has been likened to Baroque by critics such as art historian Michel Ragon and German philosopher Walter Benjamin.
According to Alberto Arbasino, a difference between the two is that “Expressionism doesn’t shun the violently unpleasant effect, while baroque does. DEFINITION: The term refers to an “artistic style in which the artist seeks to depict not objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse within a person. ” It is arguable that all artists are expressive but there are many examples of art production in Europe from the 15th century onward which emphasize extreme emotion.
Such art often occurs during times of social upheaval, such as the Protestant Reformation, German Peasants’ War, Eight Years’ War, and Spanish Occupation of the Netherlands, when the rape, pillage and disaster associated with periods of chaos and oppression are presented in the documents of the printmaker. Often the work is unimpressive aesthetically, yet has the capacity to cause the viewer to experience extreme emotions with the drama and often horror of the scenes depicted. Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.
Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. Expressionist artists sought to express meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality. Expressionism was developed as an avant-garde style before the First World War. It remained popular during the Weimar Republic, particularly in Berlin. The style extended to a wide range of the arts, including painting, literature, theatre, dance, film, architecture and music.
The term is sometimes suggestive of emotional angst. In a general sense, painters such as Matthias Grunewald and El Greco are sometimes termed expressionist, though in practice the term is applied mainly to 20th-century works. The Expressionist emphasis on individual perspective has been characterized as a reaction to positivism and other artistic styles such as Naturalism and Impressionism. Expressionism is notoriously difficult to define, in part because it “overlapped with other major ‘isms’ of the modernist period: with Futurism, Vorticism, Cubism, Surrealism and Dada.
” Richard Murphy also comments: “the search for an all-inclusive definition is problematic to the extent that the most challenging expressionists such as Kafka, Gottfried Benn and Doblin were simultaneous the most vociferous “anti-expressionists. ” “Expressionism is the movement in fine arts that emphasized the expression of inner experience rather than solely realistic portrayal, seeking to depict not objective reality, but the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in the artist.
” Expressionism represents the artist’s personality and interior perception imposed on the visual reality of the objects depicted. The objects in Expressionism paintings are often distorted, painted in vivid colors, and are composed of strong, bold lines. Its roots can be found in both Medieval Art and African Art. Expressionism also revived the ancient German tradition of woodcut, but as a form of personal expression. Expressionism was a cultural movement originating in Germany at the start of the 20th-century as a reaction to positivism and other artistic movements such as naturalism and impressionism.
It sought to express the meaning of “being alive” and emotional experience rather than physical reality. It is the tendency of an artist to distort reality for an emotional effect; it is a subjective art form. CHARACTERISTICS OF GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM: German Expressionism artists used seven specific themes in their paintings: 1. The Utopia of Nature – for the Brucke artists the landscapes and nudes frolicking in the outdoors they depicted epitomized nature as the antidote to the factory work and frustrations experienced by those living in the cities.
The humans in the paintings are in harmony with nature. The Blaue Reiter artists produced abstract visions of nature that included hints of familiar objects such as mountains, animals, and churches. Both groups used vivid colors and strong lines. 2. The Big City – the cabarets, migrant population, prostitutes and circus performers who composed much of the street life of the big city (mainly Berlin) were studies in alienation. Sharp angular lines that split and fragment the subjects are often used. 3. Portraits and Self-portraits – Self-portraits were a means of exposing the
inner self and were never flattering. Almost all of the subjects, whether the artists themselves or others, were characterized by melancholy expressions. Many of the artists turned to woodcutting for portraiture and some were drawn to specific themes such as women who were sick, exhausted, or sad. 4. Apocalypse & War – Ludwig Meidner depicted the devastation of war prior to 1914. And all of the artists who served in combat were irrevocably scarred by the experience. 5. Disillusionment & Revolution – after the war some artists turned to religious themes.
Biblical suffering became a metaphor for the suffering of the German people. The defeat, uncontrollable economic chaos, the hungry, maimed and wounded, and orphaned children were common themes. Between the revolution of 1918 and the elections of 1919 many artists became politically active. 6. Old Utopia: New Harmony – After their initial political activity, many of the Brucke artists retreated to country studios seeking a harmony they could not find in the cities. They sought a calmness and balance in their work that had previously been characterized by tension and violence. 7.
Toward a New order – By the end of the 1920s the artists had found that the political revolution was headed in the opposite direction of an artistic revolution. Some of the artists pioneered a new style that portrayed diffidence and skepticism. But the fascination with the night life of the big city and the marginal and often grotesque people who inhabited it remained a major theme. Expressionism emerged simultaneously in various cities across Germany as a response to a widespread anxiety about humanity’s increasingly discordant relationship with the world and accompanying lost feelings of authenticity and spirituality.
In part a reaction against Impressionism and academic art, Expressionism was inspired most heavily by the Symbolist currents in late nineteenth-century art. Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and James Ensor proved particularly influential to the Expressionists, encouraging the distortion of form and the deployment of strong colors to convey a variety of anxieties and yearnings. The classic phase of the Expressionist movement lasted from approximately 1905 to 1920 and spread throughout Europe.
Its example would later inform Abstract Expressionism, and its influence would be felt throughout the remainder of the century in German art. It was also a critical precursor to the Neo-Expressionist artists of the 1980s. TECHNIQUES: The arrival of Expressionism announced new standards in the creation and judgment of art. Art was now meant to come forth from within the artist, rather than from a depiction of the external visual world, and the standard for assessing the quality of a work of art became the character of the artist’s feelings rather than an analysis of the composition.
Expressionist artists often employed swirling, swaying, and exaggeratedly executed brushstrokes in the depiction of their subjects. These techniques were meant to convey the turgid emotional state of the artist reacting to the anxieties of the modern world. Through their confrontation with the urban world of the early twentieth century, Expressionist artists developed a powerful mode of social criticism in their serpentine figural renderings and bold colors.
Their representations of the modern city included alienated individuals – a psychological by-product of recent urbanization – as well as prostitutes, who were used to comment on capitalism’s role in the emotional distancing of individuals within cities. Sought to convey raw emotion through provocative images of modern society. They emphasized the alienation inherent to modern society and the loss of spiritual communion between individuals in urban culture; fellow city dwellers are distanced from one another, acting as mere commodities, as in the prostitutes at the forefront of Kirchner’s composition.
Unlike the pastoral scenes of Impressionism and the academic drawings of Neoclassicism, Die Brucke artists used distorted forms and jarring, unnatural pigments to elicit the viewer’s emotional response. The group was similarly united by a reductive and primitive aesthetic, a revival of older media and medieval German art, in which they used graphic techniques such as woodblock printing to create crude, jagged forms. The artists of Der Blaue Reiter group shared an inclination towards abstraction, symbolic content, and spiritual allusion.
They sought to express the emotional aspects of being through highly symbolic and brightly colored renderings. Their name emerged from the symbol of the horse and rider, derived from one of Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings; for Kandinsky, the rider symbolized the transition from the tangible world into the spiritual realm and thus acted as a metaphor for artistic practice. For other members such as Franz Marc, Paul, Klee, and Auguste Macke, this notion became a central principle for transcending realistic depiction and delving into abstraction.
Although Der Blaue Reiter never published a manifesto, its members were united by their aesthetic innovations, which were influenced by medieval and primitivism art forms, Cubism, and Fauvism. However, the group itself was short-lived; with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Franz Marc and Auguste Macke were drafted into German military service and were killed soon after. The Russian members of the group – Wassily Kandinsky, Alexej von Jawlensky, and others were all forced to return home.
Der Blaue Reiter dissolved immediately thereafter. FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS AND LEGACY: While certain artists rejected Expressionism, others would continue to expand upon its innovations as a style. For example, in the 1920s, Kandinsky transitioned to completely non-objective paintings and watercolors, which emphasized color balance and archetypal forms, rather than figurative representation. However, Expressionism would have its most direct impact in Germany and would continue to shape its art for decades afterwards.
After World War I, Expressionism began to lose impetus and fragment. The Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement developed as a direct response to the highly emotional tenets of Expressionism, while the Neo-Expressionists emerged in Germany and then in the United States much later in the twentieth century, reprising the earlier Expressionist style. NEW OBJECTIVITY: DIX, GROSZ AND BECKMANN Already by 1918, the Dada manifesto claimed, “Expressionism… no longer has anything to do with the efforts made by active people.
” But its ethos would have a vivid afterlife; it was crucial in the early formation of artists Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Max Beckmann, who together formed the movement known as the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). These artists sought, as the name suggests, an unsentimental and objective approach to artistic production. Their naturalistic renderings of individuals and urban scenes highlighted this new aesthetic and paralleled the general attitude of practicality that characterized Weimar culture. NEO-EXPRESSIONISM: BASELITZ, KIEFER, AND SCHNABEL:
The emergence of Georg Baselitz’s paintings of layered, vibrant colors and distorted figures in the 1960s, and of Anselm Kiefer’s images buried amidst thick impasto built up from a variety of materials on the canvas in the 1970s, signaled an important and influential revival of the style within Germany, which would eventually culminate in a global Neo-Expressionist movement in the 1980s. Artists in New York City, like Julian Schnabel, also employed thick layers of paint, unnatural color palettes and gestural brushwork to hearken back to the Expressionist movement earlier in the twentieth century.
The original Expressionist movement’s ideas about spirituality, primitivism, and the value of abstract art would also be hugely influential on an array of unrelated movements, including Abstract Expressionism. The Expressionists’ metaphysical outlook and instinctive discomfort with the modern world impelled them to antagonistic attitudes that would continue to be characteristic of various avant-garde movements throughout the century. BIOGRAPHY EDVARD MUNCH (1863-1944) FATHER OF EXPRESSIONISM: The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch is regarded as a pioneer in the Expressionist movement in modern painting.
At an early stage Munch was recognized in Germany and central Europe as one of the creators of a new epoch. His star is still on the ascendant in the other European countries, and in the rest of the world. Munch’s art from the 1890s is the most well-known, but his later work is steadily attracting greater attention, and it appears to inspire present-day artists in particular. His childhood home was culturally stimulating, but in his art Munch turned again and again to the memory of illness, death and grief. REALISM: After a year at Technical School, Munch became dedicated to art.
He studied the old masters, attended courses in the painting of nudes at the Royal School of Drawing and was instructed for a time by Norway’s leading artist, Christian Krohg. His early works were influenced by French-inspired Realism, and his great talent was soon discovered. In 1885 Munch went on a short study tour to Paris. That year he started on the work that was to be his breakthrough, “The Sick Child”, in which he makes a radical break with the realistic approach seen in a similar motif by Christian Krohg. Munch’s picture was about his sister Sophie.
He struggled with the motif a long time, searching for “the first impression” and a valid painterly expression for a painful, personal experience. He had renounced perspective and plastic form, and had attained a composition formula reminiscent of icons. The course texture of the surface displayed all the signs of a laborious creative process. The criticism was very negative. His main works from subsequent years are less provocative in their form. “Inger on the Beach” from 1889 shows Munch’s ability to portray a lyrical atmosphere, in keeping with the new romantic trend of that time.
In 1889 he painted a portrait of the leader of the Kristiania (as Christiania was now spelled) bohemians, Hans Jogger. Munch’s association with Jogger and his circle of radical anarchists became a crucial turning point in his life and a source of new inner unrest and conflict. At that time Munch commenced an extensive biographical literary production which he resumed at different periods in his life. These early writings serve as a reference for several of the central motifs of the ‘nineties. In keeping with Jogger’s ideas he wanted to present truthful close-ups of the modern individual’s longings and agonies he wanted to paint his own life.
THE YEARS IN FRANCE: In the autumn of 1889 Munch held a large separate exhibition in Kristiania, and was thereafter awarded a state travel grant for three consecutive years. Naturally, he went to Paris, where for a short time he was a pupil of Leon Bonnet, but he became more inspired by acquainting himself with the city’s art life. At that time a Post-Impressionist breakthrough was in progress along with different anti-naturalist experiments. This had a liberating effect on Munch. “The camera cannot compete with a brush and canvas,” he wrote, “as long as it can’t be used in heaven and hell.
” The first autumn, shortly after Munch arrived in France, he was informed that his father had died. The loneliness and melancholy in the painting “Night” (1890) are often seen with this in mind. The dark interior with the lonely figure at the window is completely dominated by tones of blue a painting of nuances which may be reminiscent of James McNeill Whistler’s nocturnal color harmonies. This modern and independent work is also an expression of the “decadence” in the final decade of the century. “The Scream” is often described as the first expressionistic picture, and is the most extreme example of Munch’s “soul paintings.
” The facial expression depends to a large degree on the painting’s dynamics, the colors and lines. The scene and particularly the foreground figure are grotesquely distorted and rendered in colors that are not taken from external reality. Coming as it does from Munch’s own “inner hell”. In the autumn of 1892 Munch gave a broad presentation of his art, in which he included the fruits of his sojourn in France. This exhibition resulted in Munch being invited to show the same paintings to the Artist’s Association of Berlin. It was a formidable “success de scandale.
” The general public and the older painters interpreted Munch’s art as anarchistic provocation, and the exhibition was closed in protest. In December 1893 Munch had an exhibition at Unter den Linden where he showed, among other things, six paintings entitled “Study for a Series: Love. ” This was the beginning of a cycle he would later call the “Frieze of Life, A Poem about Life, Love and Death. ” It includes motifs that are steeped in atmosphere such as “The Storm”, “Moonlight” and “Starry Night”, where one dimly perceives the influence of Arnold Bucklin.
Other motifs illuminate the nocturnal side of love, such as “Rose and Amelie” and “Vampire. ” Several pictures have death as a theme: “Death in the Sickroom” (1893) created quite a stir. In this composition Munch’s debt to the French Synthetics and Symbolists is obvious. Painted in garish and pallid colors, the picture shows a scene frozen fast like the tragic final tableau in a drama. The motif is based on the memory of his sister Sophie’s death, and the whole family is represented. The dramatic focus in the picture is on the figure that represents Munch himself.
The following year the “Frieze of Life” was enlarged by motifs such as “Anxiety”, “Ashes”, “Madonna” and “Women in Three Stages”, the latter a monumental motif completely in keeping with the spirit of Symbolism. BACK TO BERLIN: In the spring of 1896 Munch left Berlin and settled down in Paris, where his associates again included Strindberg. He was now devoting greater attention to the graphic medium, at the expense of painting. In Berlin he had begun etching and lithography; he was now making exquisite color lithographs and his first woodcuts in partnership with the famous printer Auguste Clot.
Munch had also plans for publishing a portfolio titled “The Mirror”, a graphic version of the “Frieze of Life. ” Today Munch is regarded as one the classics in graphic arts, owing to his unique command of the medium and his great artistic originality. TURN OF THE CENTURY: Around the turn of the century Munch tried to finish the Frieze. He painted a number of pictures, several of them in larger format and to some extent featuring the art nouveau aesthetics of the time. He made a wooden frame with carved reliefs for the large painting “Metabolism” (1898).
Initially called “Adam and Eve”, the work reveals the central place the fall of man myth has in Munch’s pessimistic philosophy of love. Motifs such as “The Empty Cross” and “Golgota” (both c. 1900) reflect a metaphysical orientation to the times, and also echo Munch’s pietistic upbringing. The turn of the century was a phase of restless experimentation. A more colorful and decorative style manifests itself, influenced by the art of the Nabis, particularly Maurice Denis. As early as 1899 Munch painted “The Dance of Life”, which can be interpreted as a daring and personal monumentalization of this decorative flat style.
A series of landscape paintings from the Kristiania fjord, decorative and sensitive studies of nature, are regarded as highlights in Nordic symbolism. SUCCESS AND CRISIS: In the early years of the new century Munch was in the process of firmly establishing his career. In 1902 he showed the entire Frieze for the first time at the Secession exhibition in Berlin. An exhibition in Prague in 1905 had an impact on several Czech artists. Portraits, usually full-length, gradually constituted an important part of his oeuvre. The group portrait of Dr.
Linde’s sons (1904) is reckoned to be one of the masterpieces of modern portraiture. The Fauvists, led by Matisse, shared many of Munch’s new artistic approaches. The “Die Bracke” group in Dresden was interested in Munch, but they did not succeed in getting him to show his paintings at their exhibitions. Artistic success was accompanied by personal conflicts. Alcohol had become a problem, and Munch was emotionally unstable. He was plagued by the memories of his tragic love affair, which had come to a dramatic end with a revolver scene in the autumn of 1902, permanently injuring a finger on Munch’s left hand.
He never got over the ignominy of this incident, but during these years it became an obsession. The woman’s features can be seen in “Death of Marat” (two versions from 1907), a motif which more generally can be said to portray “the battle called love between men and women. ” BACK IN NORWAY: From 1909 and for the rest of his life Munch resided in Norway. At first he settled down in Krager, a coastal town farther south. Here he painted several classic winter landscapes and threw himself enthusiastically into the competition for the decoration of the University of Kristiania’s new auditorium, the Aula.
In 1912, Munch was given a prominent place among pioneers of modern art at the large Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne. In Krager he built large outdoor studios where he worked for several years on the designs for Aula. After prolonged controversy Munch’s designs were finally accepted and installed in the auditorium in 1916. According to Munch himself, the motifs in the Aula celebrate the “perpetual forces of life. ” The background motif shows a sunrise over the fjord, based on the view from the property Munch rented in Krager. The explosive composition may also be
viewed as a symbol of the boundless and life-giving power of light. The large canvases “History” and “Alma Mater” hang like pendants in the Aula: an old man is sitting under a great oak tree in a meager and rugged landscape relating the saga of mankind to a little boy, and in a gentle and verdant landscape a woman is sitting on a seashore with a child at her breast, while bigger children are exploring the surroundings. Besides alluding to the humanities and sciences, the two “archetypal” motifs are expressions of a male and female principle, a central opposition in Munch’s visual world.
In his later years Munch painted a number of studies and compositions using a model. Some of these have a vigorous and life-embracing quality, while in others he continued to explore the conflict-filled themes of the 1890s. He continued to produce a considerable number of graphics, including a number of lithographic portraits. Before Munch died in January 1944, he had willed his large collection of pictures and catalogued biographical and literary notes to the City of Oslo. Consequently, the Munch Museum, dedicated in 1963, has a unique collection of Munch’s art and other material which illuminates all phases of the artistic process.
The National Gallery in Oslo also has an exquisite Munch collection particularly rich in main, early paintings. Major works are also found in the Bergen Art Gallery. FRANZ MARC :EARLY LIFE Franz Marc was born on February 8, 1880, in Munich. His father, Wilhelm, was landscapist of “curiously philosophical character”, according to Franz; his mother, Sophie, was an Alsatian from a strict Calvinist tradition. Marc’s grandparents were amateur artists who copied the masters. They and his great grandparents were aristocrats, with friends among artists as well as people of letters.
Following the lead of his family, Marc studied theology intensely. The family contemplated both the spiritual essence of Christianity and its cultural responsibilities. Marc was sufficiently moved by the background and his confirmation in 1894 that, for the next five years, his goal was to become a priest. But he mingled with his theological studies the Romantic literature of both England and Germany. Finally, near the end of 1898, Marc gave up his goal of becoming a priest to study philosophy at University of Munich. But suddenly, in 1900, the ethical, high-minded youth turned to art.
He studied drawing first with Gabriel Hackl and then painting with Wilhelm von Diez, both at the Munich Academy. In the first years of the twentieth century, artistic training in Munich emphasized the traditional verities of academic naturalism and studio production. French Impressionist color innovations were still largely unknown. At this early stage in his development, Marc reflects the thematic concerns of such predecessors as Caspar David Friedrich in that the human being is dwarfed by the awesome appearance of nature. EVOLVING A STYLE: Marc’s sudden trip to Paris in 1907 marks a major turning point in his career.
Apparently freed from his period of despondency, he came under the influence of Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, and Van Gogh, all of whom had a profound impact on the young artist. Van Gogh immediately fit Marc’s mood: “Van Gogh is for me the most authentic, the greatest, the most poignant painter I know. To paint a bit of the most ordinary nature, putting all one’s faith and longings into it – that is the supreme achievement… Now I paint… only the simplest things… Only in them are the symbolism, the pathos, and the mystery of nature to be found. ” Marc and Van Gogh were clearly kindred spirits.
Each saw life in religious yet tortured terms and each found transcendent effects in insignificant themes, echoing Symbolist notions. Like Van Gogh, Marc possessed the idea of the artist as martyr. The year 1907 marks the beginning of his sustained preoccupation with a variety of animal subjects. Beside an anatomical interest in these, as in his few pieces of sculpture, Marc’s constant thematic concern is the relationship between animal and human spheres. One reason for Marc’s interest in animals was that they represented, for him, a spiritual attitude.
A critical element in Marc’s turn to this subject was a feeling that animals were somehow more natural or pure than people. Moreover, he believed that through animals he could represent his own spiritual feeling. Marc’s most important work of 1908 is Large Lenggries Horse Painting. Although he had done several small horse subjects earlier, this work was the largest and most significant to survive. It announces Marc’s engagement with the major theme of his career, the horse. While Marc had painted horses earlier, those versions often portray domesticated or placid animals.
But Lenggeries Horse Painting introduces the enormous vitality and vivid rendering that would characterize later paintings. It also shows another aspect typical of Marc’s mature work – animals arranged rhythmically, yet with each indicating an individual and potent