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August Macke: Russian Ballet 1 (1912)

The Expressionism (from Latin expressio , expression ') is a style in art. Its beginnings and forerunners can be found in the late 19th century . Like impressionism , symbolism, and fauvism , expressionism is a movement against the tendencies of naturalism . In Expressionism, the expressive level outweighs the aesthetic , appellative and factual level. The artist wants to present his experience for the viewer.

The visual artists as well as the writers and musicians of Expressionism and the like served as a means of expression. a.

  • the turn towards the general public, which was underlined by the striking, superlative , excited-exclamatory element and the pamphlet style of literature;
  • the “aggressive deformation” of forms, figures, words, harmonies and tempos, the uncultivated, archaic and “wild”;
  • the travesty , the parody of the “sublime” with simultaneous heroization of the banal;
  • a forced simultaneity that z. B. is achieved by extreme time lapse in literature or by rendering temporally or spatially inconsistent events on the same image;
  • the tendency towards the constructed, towards typification, metaphorisation, de-individualisation and depersonalisation , which blocks empathic identification.

This reveals a will to destroy, which turns against a decadent, slack and decent middle class of the Wilhelmine era as well as against the enjoyment aesthetics of Impressionism and Art Nouveau, whereby the goal of stimulation often remains unclear.

Expressionism in painting and graphics


Expressionism is a style of fine art that emerged as an artistic movement in the German-speaking area for the first time in painting and graphics in the early 20th century through that explicit naming. As before in Fauvism in France, Expressionism opposed and diametrically opposed the pictorial design methods of Impressionism .

In the expressionist works of art, there is a free use of color and form with the frequent use of unmixed colors and, in the German-speaking area, the use of woodcut-like forms. Further characteristics are a reduction of the motif to the distinctive form elements of the picture objects and a dissolution of the traditional perspective.

The true reproduction of impressions and beautiful forms was not important to the artists of this epoch; In contrast to the Impressionist painters, the Expressionists expressed their subjective impulses. They passed on a motif that had been interpreted “through feeling” directly and spontaneously.

Very soon after the First World War and under its influence on the artists, Expressionism was partly superimposed and partly replaced by new styles (e.g. Constructivism , New Objectivity , Informel , in postmodernism by the New Wilders and Photo Realism ) and by the Dadaism is partly questioned.


A first expressionist wave, mixed with symbolic and Art Nouveau elements, appeared between 1885 and 1900 as a reaction to impressionism and the objective will to order Paul Cézanne and Georges Seurat as well as German impressionism . Their representatives were Vincent van Gogh , Paul Gauguin , Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec , James Ensor , Edvard Munch and Ferdinand Hodler .

In addition, there were first indications of the aesthetic character of the upcoming Expressionism style by Hermann Bahr , who discussed a painting by Ludwig von Hofmann in an exhibition in the Künstlerhaus Vienna in 1895 under the title Red Trees .

A second expressionist wave, far more important than the first, was already evident in France through the contributions of Georges Rouault , in the early work of Pablo Picasso , in the work of Fauvism and in Germany with the founding of the Dresden Bridge .

Artist associations

Franz Marc : The Big Blue Horses (1911)
Otto Mueller : Two Girls in the Green (around 1925), Pinakothek der Moderne , Munich

Artists' associations carried the expressionist pictorial works on to abstraction . The main representatives of the bridge in Dresden (1905–1913) were Ernst Ludwig Kirchner , Erich Heckel , Karl Schmidt-Rottluff , Otto Mueller and Max Pechstein , who also exhibited together in the New Secession 1910/1911 in Berlin. Another significant group was the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM), which included Wassily Kandinsky , Alexej Jawlensky , Franz Marc , Gabriele Münter and Marianne von Werefkin , among others . The editorial office of the Blauer Reiter emerged from the NKVM . There was also a Rhenish expressionism . The term was coined in 1911 by Herwarth Walden , it describes less an art direction, but rather the attitude to life of a young generation. The beginnings go back to Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch .

Bridge program (1906), woodcut by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Expressionism was directed as a protest against the then existing order and thus often against the bourgeoisie . Its emergence must be seen in close connection with the life reform movement . Expressionist artists cited Friedrich Nietzsche as a thought leader. The magazine Der Sturm (published by Herwarth Walden ) and other newly founded artistic-literary magazines served the protagonists as a discussion forum. Traditional artistic forms were given up ("form shattering"). Expressionism was thus in opposition to naturalism .

Since the program of German Expressionism was largely defined negatively (not true to nature, not bourgeois, not conventional), in contrast to Impressionism, it did not result in an art that can be easily recognized by stylistic features. It was the mindset that made Expressionism what it was. In 1906, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner formulated the “ Bridge Program ” in the woodcut of the same name as follows:

“With the belief in development in a new generation of creative people, we call all young people together and as a youth who sustains the future, we want to create freedom of poverty and freedom of life in relation to the well-established older workers. He belongs to us who directly and unadulterated reflects what urges him to create. "

Important representatives of German Expressionism vehemently resisted being called Expressionists, such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Mueller . They emphasized that this designation does not do justice to their style and originality.

The joint trip by Paul Klee , August Macke and Louis Moilliet to Tunisia has gone down in art history as the Tunis trip .

Influence of non-European art

Like the Cubist works, for example, Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque also the works of the Expressionists, especially the artists of the bridge, and later the works of the American artist was Jean-Michel Basquiat in the area of neo-expressionism , oceanic from the objects and African art inspired .

At the beginning of the 20th century, Europe's ethnographic museums were filled with objects from Africa and Oceania. The simple and expressive design of the masks and figures, all of which are mystical symbols of foreign cultures, fulfilled the artist's longing for a “new naturalness”.

List of Expressionist painters

Artists who are assigned to Expressionism or were related to it can be found under the category: Expressionist painters .


The Brücke-Museum Berlin , which opened in 1967, has the world's largest coherent collection of works by the Expressionist Brücke artists. The Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich has the world's largest collection of the Blue Rider artists. Many works by German expressionists are now exhibited in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena (California).

Expressionism in literature

Similar to Expressionism in the fine arts, Expressionism in literature primarily dealt with the themes of war , the big city , decay , fear , loss of the ego and the end of the world (apocalypse), and also with madness , love and intoxication, and nature . The bourgeois aesthetic is rejected by an 'aesthetic of the ugly'; Like no other literary movement before, the Expressionists make the ugly, the sick and the insane the object of their representations. The younger generation of authors expressed themselves primarily through poetry and in poetry, as in Lasker-Schüler , van Hoddis , Stramm , Benn and Heym . Examples of works are the poems End of the World by van Hoddis and Umbra Vitae by Heym. The turning away from formal requirements becomes clear here.

The idea of ​​constructivism is anticipated in the negation of the given structures. Although this epoch - like any other - has flowing transitions and its delimitation is of course strongly dependent on definition, the catchphrase of the 'Expressionist decade' has become established in literary studies for the heyday of Expressionism between 1910 and 1920. The beginning of the First World War marks a major turning point for the terms tenor and topos, especially in Expressionist poetry; While many authors initially longed for and glorified war as a renewing force that swept away bourgeois society (cf. also futurism ), the image of war soon changed due to the horror impressions of many poets, who themselves the extent of annihilation and misery as soldiers must experience at the front.

Expressionism in other arts


Art history reception

The reassessment of Romanesque sculpture and Gothic architecture as well as El Greco and the discussion of colourfulness played a central role in the research of some art historians at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of them, like Fritz Burger, had close contact with contemporary artists.

In the field of art history , the most important representatives are:

See also


On expressionism in literature

  • Kurt Pinthus (Hrsg.): Menschheitsdämmerung. Symphony of Recent Poetry. Rowohlt, Berlin 1920. (the most important anthology of expressionist poetry)
  • Heinrich Eduard Jacob (ed.): Verse der Lebenden. German poetry since 1910. Propylaeen Verlag, Berlin 1924; 2nd, supplemented edition 1927; 3rd, supplemented edition 1932. (After the twilight of mankind published by Kurt Pinthus, this most important Expressionist anthology was preceded by an extensive introduction)
  • Paul Raabe , HL Greve : Expressionism. Literature and Art 1910 (An exhibition by the German Literature Archive in the Schiller National Museum Marbach a. N., from May 8 to October 31, 1960. Catalog No. 7). Marbach a. N. 1960. (is constantly being reissued in the DLA)
  • Kasimir Edschmid : Lively Expressionism. Confrontations, designs, memories (with 31 poet portraits by artists of the time). Kurt Desch publisher, Vienna & Munich 1961.
  • Heinrich Eduard Jacob : Berlin, pre-war poetry and attitude to life. In: Imprimatur - Yearbook for Book Lovers Volume III. Society of Bibliophiles, Frankfurt am Main 1961/62, pp. 186-189. (reprinted in: Paul Raabe (Hrsg.): Expressionism. Notes and memories of contemporaries. Walter-Verlag, Olten 1965, pp. 15-19)
  • Theodor Sapper: All the bells on earth. Expressionist poetry from the Danube region. Europaverlag Wissenschaft, Vienna 1974, ISBN 3-203-50494-4 .
  • Silvio Vietta , Hans-Georg Kemper: Expressionism (= UTB 362). Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich 1975 (6th edition 1994), ISBN 3-8252-0362-X .
  • Ernst Fischer, Wilhelm Haefs (Ed.): Hirnwelten Sparkeln. Expressionist literature in Vienna. Otto Müller Verlag, Salzburg 1988, ISBN 3-7013-0745-8 .
  • Peter Bekes: Working texts for the class. Expressionist poems . Reclam, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-15-015024-8 .
  • Paul Raabe: The authors and books of literary expressionism . A bibliographical handbook in collaboration with Ingrid Hannich-Bode. JB Metzler, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-476-00756-1 .
  • Walter Fähnders (ed.): Expressionist prose. A study book . Aisthesis, Bielefeld 2001, ISBN 3-89528-283-9 .
  • Thomas Anz : Literature of Expressionism. Metzler Collection, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-476-10329-3 .
  • Nicole Leonhardt : The color metaphor in the lyric poetry of Expressionism. An investigation on Benn, Trakl and Heym. Ubooks Verlag, Augsburg 2004, ISBN 3-937536-17-5 .
  • Ralf Georg Bogner : Introduction to Expressionist Literature. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2005, ISBN 3-534-16901-8 .

On expressionism in painting and graphics

  • Brigitte Lühl-Wiese: Georg Trakl - the Blue Rider: Form and color structure in poetry and painting of Expressionism. Münster 1963 DNB 481959858 (Dissertation Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Philosophical Faculty, July 19, 1963, 192 pages).
  • Richard Hamann, Jost Hermand: Expressionism. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1975.
  • Ursula Peters (in collaboration with Andrea Legde): Modern times. The 20th Century Collection (Cultural and Historical Walks in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Vol. 3). Verlag des Germanisches Nationalmuseums, Nuremberg 2000, ISBN 3-926982-61-6 . (especially pp. 11–120)
  • Kai Buchholz et al. (Hrsg.), Die Lebensreform, drafts for the redesign of life and art around 1900. haeusser-media, Darmstadt 2001, ISBN 3-89552-077-2 .
  • Karl-Heinz Morscheck: Expressionism. Style and implementation. English publisher, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 978-3-8241-1334-7 .
  • Magdalena M. Moeller (Ed.): Expressionism. The great modern artist movement. DuMont, Cologne 2005, ISBN 3-8321-7527-X .
  • Peter Stepan et al: The expressive gesture. German Expressionists and African Art. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2007, ISBN 978-3-7757-1918-6 .
  • Ralf Beil, Claudia Dillmann (Hrsg.): Gesamtkunstwerk Expressionismus. Art, film, literature, theater, dance and architecture 1905 to 1925. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2010, ISBN 978-3-7757-2712-9 .
  • Antje Birthälmer (ed.): The storm (volume 1: center of the avant-garde , volume 2: essays ). From the Heydt Museum, Wuppertal 2012, ISBN 978-3-89202-081-3 . (Catalog for the exhibition Der Sturm - Center of the Avant-garde , Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal, March 13 to June 10, 2012)
  • Timothy O. Benson ao: Expressionism in Germany and France. From Matisse to the Blue Rider. Prestel, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-7913-5339-5 .
  • Tayfun Belgin, Otto Letze: Radically subjective: Search for identity in German expressionism. Hirmer, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-7774-2489-7 .
  • Jutta Hülsewig-Johnen, Henrike Mund (ed.): The evil expressionism: trauma and taboo. Wienand, Cologne 2017, ISBN 978-3-86832-413-6 . (Catalog for the exhibition Der böse Expressionismus. Trauma und Tabu , Kunsthalle Bielefeld, November 11, 2017 to March 11, 2018)

Web links

Commons : Expressionism  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Expressionism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Richard Hamann , Jost Hermand : Expressionism (= epochs of German culture from 1870 to the present. Volume 5), Frankfurt 1977, pp. 32–63, 93, 123.
  2. Viktor Zmegac: History of German Literature from the 18th Century to the Present: Volume 2/2 , 1995, p. 413
  3. ^ Jean Leymarie: Fauvismus , 1959, pp. 121-123
  4. Review of Ralf Beil, Claudia Dillmann (Ed.): Gesamtkunstwerk Expressionismus. Art, film, literature, theater, dance and architecture 1905 to 1925 ,, accessed on May 11, 2011