Expressionism a shocking emotional movement in the art

Expressionism Alla prima. Vincent van Gogh. Starlight Night. 1889
Vincent van Gogh. Starlight Night. 1889.

Expressionism a shocking emotional movement in the art of the 20th century

The founders of Expressionism refused to see their purpose in the traditional reproduction of reality. Expressionism for them was a way of artistic expression of the emotional state of the author. To realize their creative ideas, the expressionists used innovative methods: distorted lines, contrasting colors, abstract forms, exaggeration and simplification.

Expressionism recognized the author’s right to have a shocking effect on the public, contrary to generally accepted standards in painting. The artists sought to evoke a flurry of emotions in the viewer, often turning to themes of disappointment, indignation, pain, fear and anxiety.

Expressionism Alla prima. Paul Cezanne. The artist at work. 1875
Paul Cezanne. The artist at work. 1875.


Expressionism arose at the beginning of the 20th century in Germany on the eve of the First World War, during the period of rapid industrial development in Europe and the massive growth of revolutionary sentiment in society. Many people were confused, and old moral values were rapidly being destroyed. The Expressionists, before others, sensed the contradictory nature of the world around them. Expressionist motifs in art can be discerned long before the emergence of a new direction. Expressive distortions of artistic images are present in some of El Greco’s works, and the paintings of Matthias Grünewald are characterized by extreme emotionality. The expressionists recognized the strong influence of these masters on their work and considered them the forerunners of their style.

In the works of many post-impressionists, one can also notice the principles of simplified perspective and strong expression of feelings, consonant with the expressionists.

Applications by Henri Matisse
Applications by Henri Matisse.

This is what the paintings are famous for

  • Vincent van Gogh,
  • Paul Cézanne,
  • Henri Matisse,
  • Paul Gauguin.

Representatives of the new artistic movement skillfully used the experience of these masters, but significantly increased the volume of expression in their canvases. The official date of birth of expressionism is considered to be June 7, 1905.

Paul Gauguin's Armchair (1888)
Paul Gauguin’s Armchair (1888).

On that summer day in Dresden, 4 budding architects founded the art group “The Bridge” (Die Brücke).

Their names were:

  1. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner initiator of the creation of the group;
  2. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff came up with the name “Bridge”;
  3. Eric Heckel;
  4. Fritz Bleyl.
  5. Later they were joined by new like-minded people:
    Emil Nolde.
  6. Max Peckstein.
  7. Cuno Amiet.
  8. Bohumil Kubišta and dozens of other young people.
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913.

By the time of its dissolution in 1913, the Bridge had more than 70 members.

The young artists were united by their rejection of the overly superficial verisimilitude of impressionism. They wanted to return spirituality and deep meaning to art. The band members even developed their own aesthetic vocabulary and group style. Therefore, many of the paintings were very similar in writing style and subject matter.

Blue-Black Fox
Blue-Black Fox, Franz Marc.

In December 1911, another outstanding expressionist art association, the Blue Rider, was formed in Munich.

Its active members were:

  • Wassily Kandinsky; Franz Marc;
  • Marianna Verevkina;
  • Alexey Yavlensky;
  • August Macke;
  • Alfred Kubin.

But in the works of the participants of this association, expressionism is expressed less emotionally. In the paintings there is a desire to search for harmony, and the inner world of the authors is not filled with gloomy thoughts.

Alexey Yavlensky, jawlensky head in blue 1912
jawlensky head in blue 1912.
In addition to Germany, expressionism experienced a period of rapid growth in other European countries.

Famous representatives of the style created:

  • in France Amedeo Modigliani, Georges Rouault;
  • in Austria Egon Schiele;
  • in Romania Nicolae Tonitza;
  • in Norway Edvard Munch;
  • in Belgium Constant Permeke;
  • in the Netherlands Jan Sluijters;
  • in the USA Clyfford Still,
  • Jackson Pollock,
  • Hans Hofmann;
  • in Russia Marc Chagall, Pavel Filonov, Yuri Pimenov.
Alfred Kubin. Gateway to Hell 1900
Gateway to Hell 1900, Alfred Kubin.

The decline of interest in expressionism in Germany, and later in the rest of Europe, began after the stabilization of people’s post-war lives. It was not easy for the general public to comprehend works of art, society was tired of negativity, and a need arose for more optimistic creativity.

With Hitler’s rise to power, the current was dealt an irreparable blow. The Nazis had a sharply negative attitude toward avant-garde phenomena in painting, the expressionists were persecuted, and their paintings were officially declared “degenerate art.” Artists were not allowed to hold exhibitions, and their works were destroyed en masse.

But already in the 40s of the 20th century abstract expressionism began to take shape in America, and in the late 70s neo-expressionism made itself known in world culture.

Carter, Pavel Filonov.
Distinctive features of expressionism

An experienced art connoisseur can easily identify the work of an expressionist by its characteristic features:

  • deliberate distortion of the proportions of objects and people in the picture to artistically enhance the impression on the viewer;
  • simplification of the drawing, the author’s refusal to carefully draw the smallest details;
  • the dominance of the characteristic sharp contours of objects in the composition;
  • a deep emotional component of a creative concept with an abundance of vivid feelings: horror, fear, indignation or delight;
  • the triumph of bright colors and extremely sharp contrasts.
  • In many paintings, the author’s pessimism, uncertainty about the future and the absence of the slightest hope of changing the situation for the better are also clearly visible.
Marc Chagall. Over the city, 1918.
Marc Chagall. Over the city, 1918.
Famous Expressionist Artists

The fate of the best representatives of expressionism developed differently. Some of them achieved recognition during their lifetime and lived to a prosperous old age, others were unable to survive the catastrophic events of the First World War.

  1. Edvard Munch is, without exaggeration, a true symbol of expressionism. His painting “The Scream” is easily recognizable and extremely popular among viewers. One of four versions of the creation by the great Norwegian was sold at Sotheby’s auction for $119.9 million. The master’s legacy was appreciated not only by the expressionists, but also by our contemporaries. Munch gravitated towards expressionism at an early stage of his creativity. Most of his paintings in this style were painted before 1908. The naturally weak artist miraculously did not die from the Spanish flu; towards the end of his life he experienced serious health problems and almost stopped painting, but lived to see his 80th birthday;

    Expressionism Edvard Munch. Painting Scream, 1893
    Edvard Munch. Painting Scream, 1893.
  2. Ludwig Kirchner is the founder of a new movement in fine art. His works are characterized by amazing dramatic tension. In his work, the German artist often turned to the genre of urban landscape and was an unsurpassed master of the grotesque. With the Nazis coming to power, he was subjected to devastating criticism, his paintings were removed from museums, and some of his works were demonstrably destroyed. Deeply depressed, Kirchner became addicted to drugs and committed suicide at the age of 58;

    Ludwig Kirchner, Dresden Street.
    Ludwig Kirchner, Dresden Street.
  3. August Macke is a man who lived a bright but short life. He was an active member of the Blue Rider group, easily attracted to new ideas, and painted pictures full of healthy life. With the outbreak of the First World War, on a wave of patriotism, he volunteered to join the active army. He died at the front at the end of September 1914 at the age of 27. His body was not found on the battlefield; Macke’s name is immortalized on the tombstone of one of the military cemeteries;

    Expressionism August Macke German. Russian ballet, 1912
    Russian ballet, August Macke, 1912.
  4. Amedeo Modigliani is a famous master of portraits and nudes. Born in Italy, but lived most of his adult life in France. Modigliani’s work cannot be unambiguously attributed to a specific direction of painting, but bright expressionist motifs are clearly visible in many works. He achieved recognition during his lifetime, enjoyed success at exhibitions, but died suddenly of tuberculosis at the age of 35;

    Portrait of a girl
    Portrait of a girl, Amedeo Modigliani.
  5. Egon Schiele is an Austrian master of painting and drawing. His works are vivid examples of disharmony and challenge to society. He painted a lot of nudes and portraits, and wrote poetry. The young man was patronized by Gustav Klimt. Schiele was even considered at one time the largest Austrian artist. But fate decreed otherwise. At the end of October 1918, his wife died of the Spanish flu, and three days later the artist himself passed away.

    Expressionism Egon Schiele. Painting Death and the Maiden, 1915
    Egon Schiele. Painting Death and the Maiden, 1915.

Like this post? Please share to your friends: