Obelisk Art History
Modernism

Expressionism
A more authentic, anxious, and grotesque reality

Expressionism, Modernism

It’s been said that every art movement is a rejection of the movement that came before, and that’s certainly true of Expressionism. In the late 1800’s Impressionism swept through Europe, sending artists outside to paint quiet rivers and genteel garden parties. The Impressionists brought subjectivity to art, exploring how perspective and light change how the world appears to us, but their composition and subject matter was as a whole, pastoral, romantic, and generally toothless.

As the 20th century dawned, painting flowers and girls knitting began to seem less relevant. A massive increase in industrialization stripped away folk culture and moved people and money into urban centers. Political tensions would explode into World War 1 within two decades, and Nietzsche’s doubt in the existence of god and the goodness of man mirrored a cultural wave of creeping anxiety. This new world needed a new art.

Expressionism was not an organized movement. There was no core group of artists or dedicated exhibitions like Impressionism. Instead, expressionist art was developed simultaneously by many artists throughout Europe, unified through bold colors and a haunting distortion of the human form. In many ways, the murky unease of Edvard Munch’sAnxiety is the prototypical Expressionist artwork, though James Ensor’s gleeful horror certainly contributed.

In 1905 two art groups laid the psychological underpinnings for Expressionism. Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian immigrant to Germany, founded the art group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) to express spiritual truths and subjective perspectives. The same year, the German artists Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff founded Die Brücke (The Bridge), a group who used woodcut prints and primitive styles to create a more crude, authentic art.

Over the next ten years, artists like Paula Modersohn-Becker and the sex-obsessed Egon Schiele would solidify what is now recognized at the Expressionist visual style — thick paint and heavy brush strokes, human forms, simplified or grotesqueified, but always rendered with feeling.


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Reed Enger, "Expressionism, A more authentic, anxious, and grotesque reality," in Obelisk Art History, Published April 05, 2015; last modified July 21, 2019, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/modernism/expressionism/.

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The Intrigue, James Ensor

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Man of Sorrows, James Ensor

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The Despair of Pierrot, James Ensor

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Madonna, Edvard Munch

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The Day After, Edvard Munch

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The Scream, Edvard Munch

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Separation, Edvard Munch

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The Dangerous Cooks, James Ensor

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The Skeleton Painter, James Ensor

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Pregnant Woman with Folded Hands, Käthe Kollwitz

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Dance of Life, Edvard Munch

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Red and White, Edvard Munch

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Self portrait in front of flowering trees, Paula Modersohn-Becker

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The Wretched, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

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Four Girls in Åsgårdstrand, Edvard Munch

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La Vie, Pablo Picasso

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Peasant War print 5: Outbreak, Käthe Kollwitz

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Portrait of George W. Vanderbilt, James McNeill Whistler

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The Brooch / Eva Mudocci, Edvard Munch

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The Old Guitarist, Pablo Picasso

The Old Guitarist Pablo Picasso, 1903 – 1904

Woman Ironing, Pablo Picasso

Woman Ironing Pablo Picasso, 1904

After the Concert, at the Fireplace, Mikhail Vrubel

After the Concert, at the Fireplace Mikhail Vrubel, 1905

Peasant War print 3: Whetting the Scythe, Käthe Kollwitz

Peasant War print 3: Whetting the Scythe Käthe Kollwitz, 1905

Child with Crane, Paula Modersohn-Becker

Child with Crane Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1906

In the Theatre I, Marianne von Werefkin

In the Theatre I Marianne von Werefkin, 1906

Italian woman with a plate in her raised hand, Paula Modersohn-Becker

Italian woman with a plate in her raised hand Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1906

Old Woman in the Garden, Paula Modersohn-Becker

Old Woman in the Garden Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1906

Portrait of Lee Hoetger with Flowers, Paula Modersohn-Becker

Portrait of Lee Hoetger with Flowers Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1906

Reclining Mother and Child 2, Paula Modersohn-Becker

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Peasant War print 4: Seizing Weapons, Käthe Kollwitz

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Self Portrait — 1906, Paula Modersohn-Becker

Self Portrait — 1906 Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1906

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Peasant War print 6: Battlefield, Käthe Kollwitz

Peasant War print 6: Battlefield Käthe Kollwitz, 1907

Figure Ashore, Wenzel Hablik

Figure Ashore Wenzel Hablik, 1904 – 1907

Jealousy, Edvard Munch

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Joys of Life, Wenzel Hablik

Joys of Life Wenzel Hablik, 1904 – 1907

Self Portrait — 1907, Paula Modersohn-Becker

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Self-portrait with a camellia branch, Paula Modersohn-Becker

Self-portrait with a camellia branch Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1907

Self-portrait with hat and veil, Paula Modersohn-Becker

Self-portrait with hat and veil Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1906 – 1907

Still life: child's head with white cloth, Paula Modersohn-Becker

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Peasant War print 1: The Tiller, Käthe Kollwitz

Peasant War print 1: The Tiller Käthe Kollwitz, 1907

Peasant War print 2: Raped, Käthe Kollwitz

Peasant War print 2: Raped Käthe Kollwitz, 1907 – 1908

Next Movement
Futurism, Modernism

Futurism

Blood, speed and violence.

1909 – 1944

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