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12.4: Expressionism (1905 – 1930)

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  • Fauvism gave way to Expressionism, a modernist movement of painting originating in Germany and Austria. The goal of Expressionism was to 'paint what you feel, not what you see,' a reaction against Impressionism and generally encouraging the distortion of form, using bold colors to project the anxiety the artists were feeling. Emotional effects surfaced in art rendering highly subjective expression on canvas. Flattened forms, lack of perspective, bold use of colors, and abstraction of figures and objects lead the movement of Expressionism.

    A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany, the German painter and key figure of the Expressionism period, Franz Marc (1880-1916), painted the famous horse series including, Blue Horse (12.19) and Der Turm der Blauen Pferde (12.20). Marc enlisted in the German army and fought in World War I as a cavalryman, mainly painting canvas used to camouflage equipment on the ground, and sadly he was killed during the war. Marc was known for his blue horses in natural settings, exposing stark minimalism and an overwhelming sense of emotion. He used colors as emotions, blue to display masculinity and mysticism, red for the sound of violence, and yellow to represent feminine happiness. When the Nazis came to power, they removed all of Marc's work, calling it degenerate.

    Blue Horse
    12.19 Blue Horse
    Der Turm der Blauen Pferde
    12.20 Der Turm der Blauen Pferde

    Paul Klee (1879-1940) was a Swiss-German painter influenced by the new modern art movements. Initially a draftsman, Klee explored the use of color in his drawings, producing vivid prints. He received his degree at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he met other expressionist artists. A trip to Tunis in 1914 changed Klee's life, a place where he was overcome by the quality of light on the Mediterranean coast of Africa. Klee began to focus on pure abstractification of objects and figures, Senecio (12.21) and created his objects using rectangles as his building blocks, Red Balloon (12.22). With color harmony and complementary pairs from the color wheel, he produced stunning results on canvas.

    Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever…Color and I are one. I am a painter” – Paul Klee

    12.21 Senecio
    12.21 Senecio
    Red Balloon
    12.22 Red Balloon

    Gabriele Münter (1877-1962), a female German Expressionist artist, was at the forefront of Expressionism, yet her gender prevented her from attending the German Academies of Art. Münter inherited her family's fortune at a young age and took advantage of living freely and independently without a man to support her. Unconstrained, Münter drew and painted daily and finally was allowed to enroll at Munich's new progressive school of art. She studied sculpture, painting, printmaking, and woodcut, giving her a solid art foundation. Münter liked to paint landscapes, although, in Nightfall in St. Cloud (12.23), the grass seems a proper green while the sky is banana yellow. Countryside Near Paris (12.24) is painted in broad, overlapping brushstrokes of bright yellows, oranges and pinks muted by darker green and brown, a reflection of her palette using unexpected colors.

    Nightfall in St. Cloud
    12.23 Nightfall in St. Cloud
    Countryside Near Paris
    12.24 Countryside Near Paris

    Emil Nolde (1867-1956) was one of the leading Expressionists working mostly in Germany in the 1910s. Nolde exaggerated the colors and the figures to express the core of human existence. In The Entombment (12.25), Nolde exhibits his religious work as he devoted fifty-five paintings to sacred themes. His strong convictions show in the emotions on the faces of the people holding Christ. Mary is wearing blue, yet her hidden face weeps for her dead son. The elongated feet and hands emphasize the reference to the nail holes while on the cross. The fundamental theme of Otto Muller (1874-1930) is the harmony of nature and humans. In Landscape with Yellow Nudes (12.26), Muller concentrated his colors into simple forms and tones, and as with others of this period, blue is a predominant color. The scene is an unsophisticated painting of women swimming with trees overhead and landscaping in the foreground. Muller also fought in WWI, and the Nazis seized his work as degenerate along with Franz Marc.

    12.25 The Entombment
    12.25 The Entombment
    Landscape with Yellow Nudes
    12.26 Landscape with Yellow Nudes

    Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938) was born in Russia and started academic training as a teenager, however, a hunting accident left her right hand impaired. She was persistent, working over and over to use her hand and paint. Her work as an artist was undervalued because she was a woman, yet she worked tirelessly to overcome the bias against her. Many of her works portray small people, hunched down, limited by life. In both Fall, School (12.27), and Storm Wind (12.28), Werefkin places people in subdued settings, liberal use of blues adding to the expression in the paintings.

    Fall, School
    12.27 Fall, School
    12.28 Storm Wind

    Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), a German artist, was one of the early painters of Expressionism and the first recognized woman to paint self-portraits of herself while nude, scandalous at the time. Unfortunately, she died at an early age eighteen days after her daughter was born. Modersohn-Becker used a specific set of colors, especially viridian (a dark green-blue color), white and yellow, scratching into the paint while it was still wet to create a textured look. Both Madchen mit Kaninchen (12.29) and the nude self-portrait (12.30) depict the simplicity and naturalistic look she favored.

     Madchen mit Kaninchen
    12.29 Madchen mit Kaninchen
    Self-portrait, Nude with Amber Necklace Half-Length II
    12.30 Self-portrait, Nude with Amber Necklace Half-Length II