Important Art and Artists of Die Brücke
The below artworks are the most important in Die Brücke - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Die Brücke. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.
Artwork description & Analysis: The charismatic center of Die Brücke, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner composed and printed their original group statement a year after their formation, championing in it their youth and claims of authenticity. The statement, seen here, was turned into a leaflet and distributed at the group's first exhibition. Kirchner's choice of the woodcut medium indicates Die Brücke's reverence for German precedents and direct representation. Moreover, his formal style suggests Johannes Gutenberg's innovations in moveable type, with a large capital "M" serving as the first letter, leading compact lines of printed script. However, a closer look reveals the artistic, handmade nature of Programme, which is evident in Kirchner's irregular lettering. That natural, artisanal approach to art and design was a remnant of his education in the Jugendstil mode of architecture and the applied arts, which would greatly influence early Die Brücke art and philosophy.
Woodcut on paper - Museum of Modern Art, New York
Poster for the first Die Brücke Exhibition (1906)
Artwork description & Analysis: In September and October of 1906, Die Brücke mounted its first exhibition, focused on the theme of the female nude. The group held the event in the showroom of the Karl-Max Seifert lamp factory, a venue procured through one of Erich Heckel's connections from design school. In contrast to the factory polish of the chandeliers and candelabras on display, Fritz Bleyl designed an expressionistic poster for the event featuring a partially abstracted nude woman. For Die Brücke and its proponents, the figure was striking and direct, reflecting the group's attitude toward open sexuality and the natural state of nudity. Reduced formally by Bleyl's style and the printed medium to a series of curves and contours, the poster was nonetheless deemed too sexually suggestive for public view and banned under the pornography clause in Germany's national penal code.
Color lithograph - Die Brücke Museum, Berlin
Self-Portrait with Monocle (1910)
Artwork description & Analysis: Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's Self-Portrait with Monocle exemplifies the lively, enervating brushstroke common among many Die Brücke painters. Rather than representing himself in a recognizable domestic interior, Schmidt-Rottluff simplified the background in an angular composition of flat panes of vibrant color. He depicted himself in the pose and garb of a bohemian intellectual, complete with brooding visage, green turtleneck, and thoughtful gesture. With the focus placed on his eye and his painting hand, he modernized the pose of Albrecht Dürer, one of the few masters Die Brücke acknowledged, in his well-loved Self-Portrait Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar (1500).
Oil on canvas - Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Standing Child (1910)
Artwork description & Analysis: In their studies toward a modern, expressionistic art, the Die Brücke group regularly sketched, painted, and printed images of two young neighborhood girls they used as models, one of whom, "Franzi," (Lina Franziska Fehrmann) Erich Heckel depicts here. The artists' desire for freedom of expression was mirrored in the free movement and relative lack of inhibition of their young muses. In Heckel's woodcut Standing Child, Franzi's pose and slight grin indicate a lack of shame about her nakedness, while her skinny, immature body provides a visual analog for the artist's angularity and simplification of form. Rendered in stark, unmodulated white, her nudity contrasts with the red and green background tones. Heckel also continued the contour of her nose into the accentuated curves of her eyebrows, a formal convention he culled from non-Western masks he studied in Dresden's Ethnological Museum.
Color woodcut - Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Artwork description & Analysis: The oldest member of Die Brücke, Emil Nolde, already a seasoned painter, joined the group in 1906. The jarring tonal combinations in Masks show both his maturity as a colorist and his respect for the northern Symbolist heritage of artists like James Ensor and Edvard Munch. These artists often incorporated the mask in their art as the visual language of alienation and disconnect; in Nolde's Masks, the masks melt into and rise from the canvas, creating a grotesque, mocking chorus of faces. His inclusion of the motif was also based on his intense study of African and Pacific masks in the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, where he lived intermittently throughout his adult life. However, his representation of the masks is neither a simple copy nor a transplantation of those forms onto figures in his painting; rather, Nolde enhances the masks with his figural distortions.
Oil on canvas - Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Under the Trees (Nudes in the Open) (1911)
Artwork description & Analysis: The artists of Die Brücke were often compared to the Fauve painters in Paris due to their bright, vivid canvases and their semi-abstract handling of the human form. And there is certainly common ground between Max Pechstein's Under the Trees (Nudes in the Open) and Henri Matisse's Joy of Life, both of which feature nude figures rendered in vibrant colors in an idyllic landscape. However, while Matisse and his cadre were still borrowing from the Classical tradition, with muses playing flutes, dancing, and making love, Pechstein depicted the landscape and events of actual trips he and his bohemian artist's group took to the country to escape from society and its strictures. Among the radical philosophies Die Brücke espoused was naturism (nudism) as a counterpoint to the industrialization of the modern city. Painted in the year the Die Brücke group moved to the Berlin metropolis, Under the Trees stands as an iconic example of that anti-urban impulse.
Oil on canvas - Detroit Institute of Art
Street, Berlin (1913)
Artwork description & Analysis: Though Max Pechstein moved first, the choice to move the Die Brücke group to Berlin was made largely by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who saw greater artistic opportunity in the more populous cultural center. Painted shortly after the breakup of Die Brücke, however, Street, Berlin exemplifies the destabilizing effect the city had on Kirchner, who referred to the years 1911 to 1914 as "the loneliest times of my life." In the forefront are two garishly painted prostitutes who stroll down a street so drastically flattened that they appear to be sliding off the canvas. They are as much on view, for sale, and separate as the trinkets in the storefront window a man peruses on the right. Kirchner would later write that as an artist he identified with the prostitute, being constantly asked to sell himself to survive. Thus, the work can be read as an iconic self-portrait depicting both his formal innovations and the psychological motivations that produced them.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York
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Related Art and Artists
Portrait of Doctor Gachet (1890)
Artwork description & Analysis: Van Gogh was one of the modern era's most gifted and emotionally troubled artists. Although grossly underappreciated in his lifetime, Van Gogh was an impulsive and often spontaneous painter who embodied many of the ideals of the Post-Impressionist movement. In Portrait of Doctor Gachet, Van Gogh strove to elicit a complex mixture of emotions within the viewer, rather than portray a naturalistic description of the sitter. Van Gogh created painterly rhythms and swirling forms within the arrangement of the figure in order to convey elements of strength, intelligence, and melancholy. Through such intimate and personalized interpretations, Van Gogh epitomized the rejection of Impressionistic optical observation in favor of an emotionally laden representation that appealed to the viewer's heart, rather than his mind.
Oil on canvas - Private collection
Composition VII (1913)
Artwork description & Analysis: Widely considered Kandinsky's prewar masterpiece, Composition VII was, at the least, the mostly highly worked canvas he achieved with Der Blaue Reiter. His largest painting (at 6 by 10 feet), it is a dynamic cacophony of colors and forms with very little in the way of recognizable imagery. Despite the heightened abstraction he achieved, scholars have studied Composition VII in relation to Kandinsky's earlier Compositions and his studies for the painting to uncover apocalyptic motifs borrowed from the Bible's Book of Revelations, such as a walled city on a mountain, the volleys of cannons and fanfares of trumpets, a cleansing flood, and the Last Judgment. Kandinsky's push for abstraction was predicated upon a belief that mankind lived in the end of times and required spiritual rebirth. The widespread destruction of World War I (1914-18) struck many artists and intellectuals as a literal apocalypse, and Kandinsky would later respond by removing all recognizable imagery - especially representations of violent conflict - from his painting.
Oil on canvas - State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mad Woman (1920)
Artwork description & Analysis: Soutine painted two known versions of Mad Woman (using a different woman for each), and this was unquestionably the darkest of the pair. His violent brushstrokes and contorted lines communicate an almost unnerving tension, but nevertheless do not deny his subject a rich depth of character. Soutine invited viewers to observe the subject closely, to gaze into her eyes and study her asymmetrical face and form. In many ways, this painting embodies the essence of the Expressionist style; Mad Woman visibly vibrates, contorts, shifts, pushes, and pulls, providing the viewer with Soutine's vision of the inner torment of his sitter. In part, it redefined the genre of portrait painting. Simply by painting this mysterious (and possibly dangerous) woman up close rather than from a distance, Soutine established himself as an empathetic figure, but also as a daring visionary.
Oil on canvas - National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors