Bridge (artist group)

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Exhibition poster for the Arnold Gallery in Dresden, 1910

Die Brücke was a group of artists (also known as "KG Brücke"), which today is considered an important representative of Expressionism and a pioneer of classical modernism . It was founded on June 7, 1905 in Dresden by the four architecture students Ernst Ludwig Kirchner , Fritz Bleyl , Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and dissolved in Berlin in May 1913. Other members were Max Pechstein , Otto Mueller and Cuno Amiet , briefly Emil Nolde and Kees van Dongen .


Dresden around 1900. The artist group Brücke was founded here in 1905 .

The name "Brücke" goes back to Schmidt-Rottluff. It has not been conclusively clarified whether he was referring to the many bridges in Dresden, which the artists often used as a motif, or whether it was a metaphor for the will to break new ground in art and to overcome old conventions. Heckel wrote about the naming in his diary: “Of course we thought about how we could go public. One evening we talked about it again on the way home. Schmidt-Rottluff said we could call it a bridge - that is a complex word, it would not mean a program, but it would lead from one bank to the other. "

Characterization and goals

The goals of the artist group were not yet clear in the year it was founded. "We knew what we had to get away from - but where we were going was less clear," Heckel later recalled.

Bridge program , 1906, woodcut by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

The program written by Kirchner was presented to the public on October 9, 1906 in the Elbe Valley Evening Post . Kirchner made a woodcut on which he reproduced the program. A leaflet published at the same time in Dresden contained the program text in the following form: “With the belief in development, in a new generation of creative people as well as those who enjoy, we call all young people together. And as a youth who supports the future, we want to create freedom of arms and freedom of life in relation to well-established, older forces. Everyone belongs to us who reflects directly and unadulterated what urges them to create. "

One of the declared goals of the bridge was a uniform group style. Essential painterly characteristics are a high-contrast, intensive use of color, the change of form through deliberate coarsening and renouncement of details, a woodcut-like character with angular shapes and a bold interior design. Other techniques include woodcut , lithography, and watercolor . The paint was sometimes applied very pasty , but sometimes it was also thinned with petrol to enable faster work.

In contrast to French Fauvism , in addition to the painterly form and image composition , the emotional and psychological moments and the knowledge or assumption about the core of things associated with them were important for the Brücke painters . In doing so, they turned away from the 19th century image of man and depicted previously taboo subjects in their paintings. They wanted to shake up and alarm their fellow human beings.

The preferred motifs of the Brücke painters included people in motion, circus and vaudeville, the night, the background, people and nature, dance, life in the big city, nudes and bathers.

History of the group

Foundation in Dresden - June 1905

In 1902 the architecture students Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl met at the Technical University of Dresden . At the same time the high school students Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel became acquainted. Two years later they also went to Dresden to study architecture. Schmidt-Rottluff and Heckel came into contact with Kirchner through Heckel's brother, who was friends with Kirchner.

The four fellow students soon discovered their common interest in art and decided to set up an artist group, although none of them had any training in painting. What they had in common, however, was the desire to leave the academic style of painting behind and to give art a completely new direction. Schmidt-Rottluff and Heckel dropped out of their studies in order to devote themselves fully to painting.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Portrait of a Woman , signed 1907, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri

The exact founding date of the artist group has long been controversial. Art critics such as Karl Scheffler , Carl Einstein , Will Grohmann and Franz Roh fluctuated in their statements between the years 1900 and 1906. It was not until 1973 that a Kirchner sketch was discovered that June 7, 1905 was the date of foundation.

Immediately after their merger, the group created the Odi profanum register , in which each member noted their ideas and ideas. They derived the motto from an allusion to an ode by Horace - Odi profanum vulgus (away, unheil'ger rabble) .

Kirchner's apartment and Bleyl's studio on the top floor of the house at Berliner Straße 65 soon became too cramped as communal work spaces. Heckel therefore rented an empty butcher's shop at Berliner Straße 60 in Dresden's Friedrichstadt , which was used as a warehouse for the artists and later as a place to live, sleep and work by Kirchner. A former shoemaker's shop, which had good light, served as a studio. The rooms were decorated with batiks and pictures and furnished with self-made and painted furniture. In this environment the artists went to work. They found the first nude models in their girlfriends and also devoted themselves to reading Nietzsche, Arno Holz and Walt Whitman .

The early days of the bridge were very productive. Heckel later said: Here [in the studio] we were every free hour. However, since Heckel partially overpainted his pictures and Schmidt-Rottluff destroyed most of his early works, only a few works have survived from this phase.

Recruitment of additional members from 1906

Otto Mueller: Circus couple . The circus was a popular motif for the Brücke painters.

Recruiting for more active as well as passive members began early on. The passive members were offered - for an annual membership fee of 12 and later 25 marks - an annual folder with original graphics by the artists and an annual report with information about the work of the bridge .

In 1906, alongside Max Pechstein , Emil Nolde also joined the group. Schmidt-Rottluff wrote to Nolde, who was 17 years older and more advanced, in the spring of 1906, “The local artist group Brücke would consider it a great honor to be able to welcome you as a member.” The appeal to join was heard. Nolde had not only given the group of artists important contacts in terms of art history, but also the art of etching. However, he left the group in 1907. He felt artistically “disturbed” by the trend towards a uniform style and said: “You shouldn't call yourselves a bridge, but van Goghiana ”. Bleyl also left the group to take on a teaching position as an architect in Freiberg .

The recruitment of further active members was not without success, but they stayed mostly distant, occasionally helpful satellites. The Swiss Cuno Amiet and the Dutch Kees van Dongen from the circle of the Fauves were the strongest . Amiet was addressed by mail by Heckel in 1906 and van Dongen by Pechstein personally in Paris in 1908. Van Dongen, the internationally most important recruiting of the bridge, took part in the parallel exhibition of French artists in the Emil Richter art salon in 1908 and is listed as a member for one year. With Edvard Munch and Henri Matisse , the bridge also called on the forefathers of its own rebellion to join - in vain.

By the time it was dissolved, the group had 68 passive members, mostly intellectuals and members of the bourgeoisie. In Hamburg it was first the lawyer and graphic collector Gustav Schiefler with his wife Luise who heard about the foundation of the bridge in autumn 1905 and traveled to Dresden. Schiefler compiled work directories of many artists and began cataloging Kirchner's prints in 1917.

In 1907, the Hamburg art historian Dr. Rosa Schapire for admission as a passive member. She devoted her life to the works of the Brücke artists, gave lectures, compiled catalog raisonnés and was in lively exchange of postcards and letters with the painters. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, whom she valued most highly, painted the portrait of Rosa Schapire in 1911 . Also in 1907 Martha Rauert, wife of the Hamburg lawyer and well-known art patron Dr. Paul Rauert , Albert Ballin's brother-in-law and close friend , was accepted into the ranks of the passive members of the bridge. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff painted Paul Rauert in 1911. Emil Nolde painted him in 1910 and 1915. Another passive member was the art historian Wilhelm Niemeyer .

Pechstein moves to Berlin - 1908

In 1908 Pechstein moved to Berlin . He was supposed to paint a house of the architect Bruno Schneidereit on Kurfürstendamm and set up a studio there. Heckel and Kirchner visited him several times. Pechstein later reported: "When we were together in Berlin, I agreed with Heckel and Kirchner that the three of us wanted to work on the lakes around Moritzburg near Dresden."

Otto Mueller: Landscape with bathers . The painters created numerous nudes during their excursions into the great outdoors.

The aim of these excursions was to show the harmony between man and landscape. The artists wanted to portray people in their true nature. Bathers were a very popular motif . In addition to friends of the artists, children also served as nude models. The nine-year-old Fränzi was particularly popular and often portrayed by the Brücke painters. Pechstein was of the opinion that the work on the Moritzburg lakes had "once again brought the community a big step forward". At this time a uniform group style was first recognizable.

Foundation of the New Secession - 1910

In 1910, Pechstein's pictures, among others, were rejected by the Berlin Secession . This resulted in the foundation of the New Secession under Pechstein's leadership, which the other Brücke members also joined out of solidarity . In May 1910, the protest exhibition of those rejected by the Secession Berlin took place in the Macht art salon at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church . The reviews were devastating. Max Osborn wrote that if the group stumbled on blindly on this path, the end would be a great fiasco and an enormous shame.

Pechstein noted in his memoirs: “They spied on our pictures, swear words were scribbled on the frames and a painting of me (…) was pierced by a criminal with a nail or pencil.” As a result of this exhibition, Otto Mueller joined the group as the last member.

Move to Berlin at the end of 1911

Berlin in 1912. A year earlier, the Brücke artists had moved to the capital. Painting by Paul Hoeniger .

At the end of 1911, the other members followed Pechstein and also moved to the capital. Heckel took over Mueller's studio in Steglitz . Kirchner moved to Wilmersdorf , where Pechstein also worked, and together with him founded the painting school MUIM-Institut ( Modern Teaching in Painting ), which, however, had to close again a little later due to a lack of students .

In Berlin, the Brücke painters hoped for better contact with collectors and dealers as well as an open-minded audience. But life was tough and the artists had to grapple with financial hardship. They contacted the publishers Herwarth Walden and Franz Pfemfert and published their work in their magazines Der Sturm and Die Aktion .

Cover of the 1912 annual folder based on a design by Otto Mueller, which was never published due to Pechstein's exclusion

Life in the big city had a lasting influence on the artists. It was here that they first came into contact with the works of Cubism and Futurism , the style elements of which flowed into their own pictures. Even if the Brücke members continued to work together, the group style slowly disintegrated and several individual styles took its place.

In February 1912 they exhibited together in the Goltz Gallery in Munich in the second exhibition of the Blue Rider , which had been founded there the year before, and in the summer they took part in the important Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne .

Shortly afterwards, Pechstein was expelled from the bridge as a traitor because he had exhibited in the Berlin Secession without the permission of the others . Kirchner later spoke of a breach of trust . The annual folder on Pechstein, which had already been completed, was then no longer published, and the group withdrew from the New Secession as a whole .

Dissolution - May 1913

In the 1912 annual report, Kirchner announced that a chronicle of Brücke would appear in the spring . This script, written by Kirchner, was created in agreement with the other group members, but the text was too one-sided for them and was rejected. Kirchner presented himself in the chronicle as the true genius of the group and emphasized his influence. He also wrote reviews of the works of the Brücke painters under a pseudonym , in which he accused the other members of having copied from him. In order to underpin his leadership, he even predated some of his pictures.

Heckel later said of the chronicle: "The text offended us." Kirchner felt the rejection by his comrades as ingratitude and withdrew more and more in the period that followed. In May 1913 the other members decided to dissolve the group. In a letter that Kirchner no longer signed, Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff informed the passive members of this.

The chronicle, which ultimately led to the end of the community, was published by Kirchner a few years later. He later distanced himself from the bridge and no longer wanted to be mentioned in connection with it.

Picture themes

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Seated Lady (Dodo) , 1907, Pinakothek der Moderne

The first themes of the bridge were city life, circus and variety shows , people in motion, dance, nudes and landscapes. They were soon organizing excursions to the countryside and the great outdoors, for example to Goppeln . In 1907, by chance, Heckel discovered the village of Dangast in the Atlas, which the artists visited frequently in the following years and captured in numerous pictures. Other excursions, for example to Fehmarn , the Flensburg Fjord or Nidden on the Curonian Spit , were undertaken, but often not closed, but in small groups or alone.


In 1905, Beyer und Sohn held an exhibition of Brücke pictures for the first time in the passage room of the Leipzig art gallery . In July 1906 further works were shown in Braunschweig .

The first Brücke exhibition in Dresden was opened on September 24, 1906 in the model hall of the lamp factory of the Dresden art workshops Karl Max Seifert (Dresden-Löbtau, Gröbelstraße 17). A poster made by Bleyl showing a woman's nude had been banned by the police in advance.

The event was not a success. The audience stayed away and the reviews were mixed. The conservative, monarchical Dresden audience reacted largely negatively and shocked to the works of the painters, as well as to their unconventional way of life and work. They were referred to by their critics as "Hottentots in tails" . In the following years, touring exhibitions by the Brücke artists were shown all over Germany.

Members of the bridge

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner:
The painters of the "Brücke" , 1925, (from left to right):
Mueller, Kirchner, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff

The members of the artist group Brücke , in brackets the time of their membership:

The following artists were accepted into the group, but are not counted among the inner circle of the Brücke members to this day, as they rarely worked with the other members and were only involved in a few exhibitions.


role models

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night . The Dutch painter is considered an important role model for the bridge .

A major role model for the bridge was Vincent van Gogh , of whom 50 paintings were exhibited in the Dresden gallery Arnold in 1905 . Fritz Schumacher , a former teacher for the Brücke members, said that the artists “got out of hand” in view of the pictures . Van Gogh's influence is particularly evident in the brushwork and color scheme.

Even Paul Gauguin influenced the art of bridge sustainable. His pictures were shown in Dresden in 1906. Gauguin's travels to Tahiti later prompted Nolde and Pechstein to stay in the South Seas and on Palau .

The Brücke painters received numerous suggestions from visits to the Dresden Kupferstichkabinett and the works of the Renaissance and Baroque exhibited there . Kirchner was a great admirer of Albrecht Dürer , whom he described in the chronicle as a " pathfinder of design ".

The artists studied the woodcuts of the 15th and 16th centuries and the surface woodcut of the 19th century. In the Dresden Völkerkundemuseum they got to know the African primitive art ( Art primitif ) , whose wooden sculptures and masks they influenced in their artistic expression. Corresponding study objects were purchased from dealers of exotic art, which were still rare in Germany at the time, such as the folklorist Julius Konietzko .

During their time in Dresden, the group received several art magazines, including the English Studio and the Munich Youth . In publications like Ver Sacrum they discovered symbolism and art nouveau . Once, Kirchner brought a volume by Julius Meier-Graefe on modern French art from a library . Bleyl said: "We were thrilled (...) We were looking for further training, progressive development and solutions to conventional ones." In 1907, Pechstein traveled to Paris after a stay in Italy and there got to know the work of the Fauves . In 1908 the two groups exhibited together in Dresden. In the Berlin years of the Brücke , cubist and futuristic elements can be found in the pictures of the artists.

Edvard Munch's influence on the group of artists is not clearly documented . In 1906, 20 works by the painter were on view in the Saxon Art Association, and the bridge tried in vain to become a member . However, later all members denied having been influenced by Munch.


During the years of the Weimar Republic , the former Brücke members Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner achieved great popularity. The atmospheric images of the artist group also had a decisive influence on the development of German film in the 1920s and 1930s. Directors such as Fritz Lang ( Metropolis ), Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau ( Nosferatu - A Symphony of Horror ) or Robert Wiene ( Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari ) cited stylistic devices of the Expressionists in their works.

In 1926 Kirchner painted the group picture An Artists' Community , on which Schmidt-Rottluff, Heckel and Mueller can be seen alongside himself.

During the time of National Socialism , expressionist pictures were considered " degenerate art " . The exhibition “Degenerate Art” , which showed a total of around 650 pictures, consisted of almost half of the works of the Brücke painters.

In 1957, the organized Oldenburger Kunstverein the groundbreaking exhibition "Painters of the bridge in Dangast 1907 to 1912," which by then curator at the Lower Saxony State Museum for Art and Cultural History , Gerhard Wietek was curated. The exhibition, with which the art-historical importance of the North Sea resort of Dangast could be shown, contributed significantly to the subsequent research on the artist group.

100 years KG Brücke: German postage stamp from 2005

The Brücke Museum was opened in Berlin in 1967 , the construction of which was suggested by Schmidt-Rottluff. The museum has around 400 paintings and sculptures and several thousand drawings, watercolors and graphics, making it the world's largest coherent collection of works by these expressionist artists. In 2001 the Museum of Fantasy was opened in Bernried , which exhibits the extensive collection of well-known works by the Brücke painters compiled by Lothar-Günther Buchheim .

In addition to the Blue Rider, the artist group Brücke and their works enjoy the reputation of many art connoisseurs as being the most important contribution made by German art of the 20th century to “world art”.

Special exhibitions

In 2005, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the bridge, numerous special exhibitions were held. The Federal Ministry of Finance issued a 55-cent special postage stamp .



Individual evidence

  1. ^ Bridge Museum. The bridge. Retrieved October 11, 2018 .
  2. a b Ulrike Lorenz, Norbert Wolf (ed.): Brücke - The German "Wild" and the Birth of Expressionism , Taschen Verlag, Cologne 2008, p. 6
  3. a b c Conversation between Hans Kinkels and Heckel. In: The work of art. 1985
  4. Ulrike Lorenz, Norbert Wolf (ed.): Brücke - The German "Wilds" and the Birth of Expressionism , Taschen Verlag, Cologne 2008, p. 11
  5. Magdalena M. Moeller (Ed.): 40 years of the Brücke Museum Berlin - documents by the artist group Brücke , Hirmer Verlag, Munich 2007, p. 40, ISBN 978-3-7774-3545-9
  6. a b c d Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Chronik KG Brücke. 1913
  7. ^ Karl Scheffler: Painting from Impressionism to the Present. P. 211. Carl Einstein: The art of the 20th century. P. 129. Will Grohmann: Between the two wars. S. 144. Franz Roh: Post-Expressionism. P. 52
  8. Ulrike Lorenz, Norbert Wolf (Hrsg.): Brücke - The German "Wilds" and the Birth of Expressionism , Taschen Verlag, Cologne 2008, p. 8
  9. The work of art. Baden-Baden 1958, p. 24
  10. a b c Ulrike Lorenz, Norbert Wolf (ed.): Brücke - The German "Wild" and the Birth of Expressionism , Taschen Verlag, Cologne 2008, pp. 12-13
  11. ^ Albert Ballin by Johannes Gerhardt. Hamburg Scientific Foundation, page 18 (PDF; 2.8 MB)
  12. a b c Max Pechstein: Memories. Edited by Leopold Reidemeister. P. 41f.
  13. Kunstchronik 1910/11, pp. 19f.
  14. ^ Lothar-Günther Buchheim : The KG bridge. 1956, p. 172
  15. ^ Leipziger Volkszeitung, November 16, 1905
  16. Deutsche Welle : The "Bridge" as a scandal , September 24, 2006
  17. ^ Dresdner Latest News, September 26, 1906, p. 2
  18. Christian Saehrendt: Who paints the nation's flagship? FAZ, June 15, 2005
  19. Schumacher: stages of life. Memories of a builder. 1935, p. 283
  20. ^ Fritz Bleyl: Memories. Stuttgart 1961, p. 24
  21. ^ Letters from Schmidt-Rottluff and Heckel to Gustav Vriesen . In: Donald E. Gordon: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. 1968, p. 460

Web links

Commons : The Bridge  - Collection of images, videos and audio files