German Expressionism

According to Rudolf Kurtz (1884-1960), one of the earliest historical commentators on the movement called expressionism, the semantic instability of Expressionismus was already inherent in its first usage by a group of visual artists in imperial Germany prior to World War I. Those painters, associated with the German modern art groups Der blaue Reiter (''the Blue Rider,'' Munich) and Die Brucke (''the Bridge,'' Berlin/Dresden), coined the term in opposition to French impressionism, rejecting the notion of the artist as a receptacle for impressions of the moment. The Bridge (1905-1913) included painters such as Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Ernst Kirchner (1880-

1938), and Erich Heckel (1883-1944), while the Blue Rider (1911-1914) was associated with Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), Wassily Kandinsky (18661944), Gabrielle Munter (1877-1962), Franz Marc (1880-1916), and Paul Klee (1879-1940). They favored the concept of the artist as an active creator through will power, as a producer of visual images reflecting interior states rather than surface reality. In contrast to the pale pastels of impressionism, the expressionists favored broad brush strokes and rich, dense hues, which were applied without regard to the natural look of the object depicted. Thus, the reproduction of a photographic impression of reality was rejected, supplanted by the artist's subjective vision of the world. Kurtz allied German art expressionism with both the cubism of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and the Russian constructivist art of Aleksandr Archipenko (1887-1964) and Kasimir Malevich (18781935), while seeing the wildly saturated portraits of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and the South Sea paintings of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) as precursors. With the painter George Grosz (1893-1959), expressionism also took on an overt political, even revolutionary tone, attacking postwar social conditions and calculated to shock bourgeois sensibilities mired in ''archaic'' forms of realism. In other words, expressionism began more as an attitude and ideology than as a style, since strong vibrant color and an interest in painting as an artistic medium rather than as a window onto the world was perhaps the only common denominator of these artists.

This fact becomes clear when looking at German expressionist literature, where the term became a revolutionary cry for poets and dramatists such as Georg Kaiser (1878-1945), Ernst Toller (1893-1939), Georg Trakl

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