Expressionism (1910-1930)

Expressionism is a European cultural movement which impacted literature, music, theater, and architecture.

'Apocalyptic Landscape': A painting without clear focus, figures are blurry and the background is rather wavy.
Apocalyptic Landscape (1913) – Ludwig Meidner

Image source: by vidalia_11

The Beginning

The first Expressionist Art Style was born in France with the Fauves (‘wild beasts, savages’), so-called because of the expressive violence of color. A second group, Die Brücke (‘The Bridge’) later emerged in Germany. With the turn of the century in Europe, changes in artistic styles erupted as a response to important societal changes. Art reflected the psychological disruption brought by these sudden developments.

'Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare' by Claude Monet: A blurry depiction of a train entering a station, blues and black are the prevalent colors.
“Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare” (1877) – Claude Monet

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Expressionist Architecture

Expressionism spread simultaneously across Germany as a reaction to the anxiety of humanity’s increasingly discordant relationship with the environment and increasing loss of authenticity and spirituality. Additionally, political and social problems influenced architecture as well.

Fritz Höger, Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz, Berlin 1930-1933: A large brown church with two short towers on either side and a skinny cross above an arched doorway.
Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz (1930-1933) Fritz Höger

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Waldsiedlung onkel toms hütte (1926-1932) - Bruno Taut: A simple white house with odd placed windows and a black roof. Moreover, there are bushes along the front.
Waldsiedlung onkel toms hütte (1926-1932) – Bruno Taut

Image source: by seier+seier

Features of Expressionism

It is through this concern for intensive expression that individual styles generally gained the mark of Expressionism. Here are the main features of an expressionist artist:

  • The conception of architecture as a work of art
  • Distortion of form for an emotional effect
  • Themes of natural romantic phenomena
  • Uses creative potential of artisan craftsmanship
Der Wasserturm (1910) - Erich Heckel: A simple painting of two buildings, one with a blue roof and the other with a red roof.
Der Wasserturm (1910) – Erich Heckel

Image source: by moedermens

Erich Heckel - Dangaster Landschaft: A simple painting of a landscape, there are two distinct trees and a rolling countryside behind such.
Erich Heckel – Dangaster Landschaft

Image source: by Allie_Caulfield

Erich Mendelsohn

Erich Mendelsohn was a German architect and a pioneer of modern design. Starting with a sculptural and emotional approach, he became closer to the International Style. Further, he is well known for his Expressionist architecture in the 1920s, as well as for including dynamism in his works for department stores and cinemas.

Erich Mendelsohn- Mossehaus, 1921-23: A large building with a combination of colors. The top is in a light grey, the middle layer is in black and the bottom is sand.
Mossehaus (1921–1923) – Erich Mendelsohn


Erich Mendelsohn's portrait . He seems to be starring at something to the right. He has glasses and his wearing a tie and jacket.
Erich Mendelsohn, portrait

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The Einstein Tower located in Potsdam, Germany: A tall skinny white tower with a grey, dome roof.
The Einstein Tower, located in Potsdam, Germany

Expressionist Painting

Expressionist Painting

Expressionist painters sought only to depict nature expressing their feelings about what they saw. Thus, it was a more individual, personal kind of art. The roots of Expressionist art can be traced back to the wonderful landscapes by Turner.

Joseph Mallord William Turner - Dinner in a Great Room with Figures in Costume [c.1830-35]: vague figures in a room with arched doorways.
Dinner in a Great Room with Figures in Costume (1830-35) – Joseph Mallord William Turner

Image source: by Gandalf’s Gallery

“The Scream” by Munch is an autobiographical experience of a scream piercing through nature while on a walk. The continuous curves of Art Nouveau tell a subjective linear fusion obliged upon nature. But man is part of nature, and absorption into such a totality liquidates the individual.

The Scream - by Munch. In the foreground there is a male figure that seems to scream, in the background there are two figures that seem to be walking away.
The scream (1893) – Munch

Image source: by Nickogibson

Expressionist Cinema

Expressionist Cinema

Expressionist films were born out of Germany’s isolation and approved by an international audience. Many European producers mimicked the absurd and unique aesthetics of German cinema. Expressionist films wanted to convey the inner experience of their subjects. Here are famous examples:

  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) directed by Fritz Lang
  • Nosferatu (1922) directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
  • Metropolis (1926) directed by Fritz Lang
'Metropolis' (1927 film) poster with a man on the right and buildings on the left. Moreover, the title of the film is placed in a diagonal across the poster.
‘Metropolis’ (1927 film)

Image source: by Archives New Zealand

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