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  • gerard van weyenbergh

Expressionism, a basic description.

The movement was born in Germany and Austria at the beginning of the XXth century expressionism is a reaction to the growing modernity and uncertainties of the future. Embodied by several groups of artists (Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter, Viennese Expressionism), he stands out from the realistic representation to express internal tensions and anxieties, in particular by bright colors, marked and angular contours, dynamic compositions. Opposed to all academicism, expressionism is often perceived as a pessimistic and tortured reading of the world, sometimes tending towards social satire.

History of movement

The term expressionism was formulated for the first time around 1910, more about the works of Vincent Van Gogh than of contemporary artists. But very quickly, it takes on a meaning linked to German artistic news. The country is experiencing intense activity, both in the industrial and cultural fields. Several groups of avant-garde painters have become known for a few years by exposing their worrying vision of the world, inscribed in the heritage of post-impressionism, in particular of Fauvism.

The first of these groups took the name of Die Brücke ("The Bridge"). Formed in 1905 in Dresden, it consists of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Max Pechstein. These artists, inspired by Nietzschean philosophy, develop an angular aesthetic, nourished by a palette close to that of wild beasts. These artists are looking for a new emotion, based on the exploration of their interiority, rejecting the academic rules (the quest for beauty, for the right proportion). Their style is considered violent, and the nude (inspired by primitivism) is the subject of preference, without forgetting the scenes of urban life.

The second group is that of the Blaue Reiter (the "Blue Rider"), led by Vassily Kandinsky. Formed in 1911 in Munich, he included among his followers Franz Marc, August Macke, Gabriele Münter, Alexej von Jawlensky, Paul Klee, and Alfred Kubin. United around the creation of an almanac and a series of exhibitions, these painters also conceive of art as a psychological, emotional expression, as music can be. The Blaue Reiter's lifespan is brief since the group dissolves with the entry into the Great War.

Another side of expressionism is developing in Austria, around the Secession group formed by Gustav Klimt. With Egon Schiele, the two artists reinvent the representation of the body, playing on the unnatural and complex poses, expressing the inner conflicts between desires and constraints.

Like some European avant-garde movements, the German and Viennese expressionist currents exploded in the context of the First World War, a conflict of a rare violence. Some of these artists will die on the front, not without having initially judged the war favorable to a renaissance of art or expressed their fears about an uncertain future in a Europe in crisis.


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