MovementsArtistsTimelinesIdeasBlog
About us
Expressionism Collage

Expressionism

Started: 1905

Ended: 1933

Expressionism Timeline

Important Art and Artists of Expressionism

The below artworks are the most important in Expressionism - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Expressionism. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

The Scream (1893)

The Scream (1893)

Artist: Edvard Munch

Artwork description & Analysis: Throughout his artistic career, Munch focused on scenes of death, agony, and anxiety in distorted and emotionally charged portraits, all themes and styles that would be adopted by the Expressionists. Here, in Munch's most famous painting, he depicts the battle between the individual and society. The setting of The Scream was suggested to the artist while walking along a bridge overlooking Oslo; as Munch recalls, "the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence...shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature." Although Munch did not observe the scene as rendered in his painting, The Scream evokes the jolting emotion of the encounter and exhibits a general anxiety toward the tangible world. The representation of the artist's emotional response to a scene would form the basis of the Expressionists' artistic interpretations. The theme of individual alienation, as represented in this image would persist throughout the twentieth century, captivating Expressionist artists as a central feature of modern life.

Tempera and crayon on cardboard - National Museum, Oslo

Der Blaue Reiter (1903)

Der Blaue Reiter (1903)

Artist: Wassily Kandinsky

Artwork description & Analysis: This breakthrough canvas is a deceptively simple image — a lone rider racing across a landscape — yet it represents a decisive moment in Kandinsky's developing pictorial language. Here, the sun-dappled hillside reveals a keen interest in contrasts of light and dark as well as movement and stillness, all major themes throughout his oeuvre. Constituting a link between Post-Impressionism and the burgeoning Expressionist movements, Kandinsky's canvas became the emblem of the expressive possibilities embraced by the Munich avant-garde. This is the eponymous work from which the collective derived its name in 1911.

Oil on canvas - Private collection

Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat (1909)

Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat (1909)

Artist: Oskar Kokoschka

Artwork description & Analysis: The esteemed art historians Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat commissioned this portrait by Kokoschka for their art collection. The colorful background and concentrated gestures of the figures represent the couple as "closed personalities so full of tension," as the artist once called them. As in many of his portraits, Kokoschka focuses on the inner drama of his subjects, here, using the couple's nervous hands as a focal point of their anxiety. His rendering depicts the way the artist perceived the couple's psyche, not necessarily their physical, naturalistic appearances. Kokoschka's emotional representation is emblematic of the Expressionist style. The swirling, abstract colors that obscure the background and emerge around them are characteristic of Kokoschka's frenetic, depthless renderings of space throughout his oeuvre.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Large Blue Horses (1911)

Large Blue Horses (1911)

Artist: Franz Marc

Artwork description & Analysis: The painter, printmaker, and watercolorist Marc was a key member of Der Blaue Reiter, and is known for his use of animal symbolism. This canvas belonged to a series of works that centered on the theme of horses, which he regarded as emblems of spiritual renewal. The lush colors, fracturing of space, and geometric forms show the influence of Cubism and Robert Delaunay's Orphism. However, while Marc was influenced by his contemporaries, his emphasis on fantastic subjects derived from the material world, such as the blue horses from this 1911 painting, is unique to his practice. For the artist, the movement away from realistic depiction represented a turn towards the spiritual, the emotional, and the authentic. As with many Expressionists, color was symbolic rather than descriptive for Marc. He drew upon the emotive qualities of his palette to convey his vision of the spiritual blue beasts.

Oil on canvas - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Houses at Night (1912)

Houses at Night (1912)

Artist: Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

Artwork description & Analysis: After co-founding Die Brücke in Dresden, Schmidt-Rottluff moved to the booming city of Berlin, where he painted this abstracted rendering of a city block. The buildings stagger apart from each other at odd angles over an eerily empty street, evoking the alienation of modern urban society. Even though Schmidt-Rottluff painted Houses at Night, the influence of woodblock printing is clear; the abstracted, minimalist shapes have a stark and graphic quality similar to the artist's many woodblock works. Here, the bright colors add to the primitive shapes of the canvas, imbuing the scene with an underlying sense of unease and estrangement. The pervasive disquiet was the essence of the modern, urban realm for Expressionists. The turn toward jagged forms and a bright, acidic palette emphasized the artist's individual, avant-garde interpretation of the street scene.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Street, Berlin (1913)

Street, Berlin (1913)

Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Artwork description & Analysis: Kirchner is renowned for his many Berlin street scenes, and this particular work is perhaps his most well known from that category, if not his entire catalog. His jagged, angular brushstrokes, acidic colors, and elongated forms all charge the street atmosphere on the canvas and achieve something very rebellious for its time and exemplify the stylistic break with tradition that the members of Die Brücke sought. As a founding member of the group, Kirchner set out to establish a new order of painting, one that visibly renounced Impressionistic tendencies and the need to accurately portray figurative forms. In Street, Berlin, Kirchner created a stunningly askew rendition of an alienated, urban street procession. Without regard for realistic depiction of form, he bent and contorted his narrow figures like they were blades of grass in a meadow. Another uniquely modern feature of Street, Berlin was Kirchner's choice to position two prostitutes (identifiable by their signature plumed hats) as the painting's (somewhat off-center) focal point.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up (1917)

Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up (1917)

Artist: Egon Schiele

Artwork description & Analysis: Schiele, one of the central figures of Austrian Expressionism, is known for his jarring and oftentimes grotesque renderings of overt sexuality. Here, Schiele draws his wife, Edith Schiele, partially dressed, her body contorted in an unnatural position. Her bold and intense expression assertively confronts the viewer and directly contradicts the artistic standards of passive feminine beauty. Although unabashedly controversial throughout his lifetime, Schiele was recognized for his skilled draftsmanship and his use of sinewy lines to evoke the decadence and debauchery of modern Austria. The emotive quality of Schiele's line-work and color firmly places him in the Expressionist movement. He rendered images as he interpreted them, not as they appeared to the outside world.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery, Prague

Portrait of a Man (1919)

Portrait of a Man (1919)

Artist: Erich Heckel

Artwork description & Analysis: A founding member of Die Brücke, Heckel experimented widely with woodblock printing, a favorite medium of many Expressionists, and was originally attracted to the technique for its raw emotionalism and stark aesthetic, as well as its traditional German heritage. While many of his works depict nudes and scenes of city life, Heckel takes up a more introspective subject in this somber self-portrait from 1919. The figure's drawn face, distorted jaw, and weary eyes, which seem to gaze distractedly into the distance, highlight the individual's spiritual, psychological, and physical fatigue. Rather than create a naturalistic self-portrait, Heckel indicates the general spirit of his time and the national weariness of his age, common themes in Expressionist art.

Woodcut - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Mad Woman (1920)

Mad Woman (1920)

Artist: Chaim Soutine

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



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Expressionism Image

Related Art and Artists

Portrait of Doctor Gachet (1890)

Portrait of Doctor Gachet (1890)

Movement: Post-Impressionism

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

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

The Three Brides (1893)

The Three Brides (1893)

Movement: Symbolism

Artist: Jan Toorop

Artwork description & Analysis: These emaciated figures with spindly arms and emphatic gestures derive from Javanese puppet theatres (Toorop was a Dutch artist who was born in Java). The artist sets up an allegory of the three states of the soul, consisting of the bride dedicated to Christ, the bride dedicated to earthly love, and the satanic bride who appears to be Egyptian - adorned with a necklace of small skulls and grasping a small snake. The group is surrounded by handmaidens and some additional obvious symbols: lilies, roses, and a bowl of blood symbolizing the purity of the Passion. The bed of thorns denotes the pains of existence. The bells hang from a nailed figure, and the flowing rhythms are symbolic of the sound of bells, with the artist attempting to depict another one of the senses. These linear rhythms proliferating in the background derive from the field of English book illustration. The whole effect is pale and monochrome.

The artist's goal was to relate humans to the spiritual world, specifically identifying women as the source of evil - an idea found in the work of many writers and artists of the time. Sin was associated with sex, and sex was related to procreation and death, with woman as the ultimate source of death. Thus Toorop provides decipherable iconography, but with Symbolism's characteristic inner vision. His is the mystical equivalent of Munch's more sensuous and expressive version of much the same subject. However, Toorop's Symbolism was unique in combining meaning-laden shapes and colors with specifically non-Western sources.

Drawing (Black chalk, tinted) - Kröller Müller Museum, Otterlo

Athanor (1983-84)
Artwork Images

Athanor (1983-84)

Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Artist: Anselm Kiefer

Artwork description & Analysis: Athanor, the title of this painting, is also the name for the digesting furnace (a kind of oven) that alchemists used to try to transform base metals into gold. The building in the painting is based on Albert Speer's design for Hitler's Chancellery building. Through the suggestion of the two buildings, and using an apocalyptic palette, Kiefer brings together the themes of alchemy and the Holocaust. The alchemists and the Nazis, each in their way, employed fire to effect their transformations. The mottled and darkened surface of Kiefer's work looks as if it has been subjected to fire itself, and indeed it has -- the artist as alchemist seeks to transform, through the act (the "fire") of painting Germany's terrible past. Kiefer also used materials other than paint - such as straw, lead, and sand - and was particularly interested in their innate expressive characteristics, as in what happened to those materials when they burned. In the case of this work, Kiefer utilized straw, which becomes ash when burned. But the sheer scale (5 by 12 feet) and physicality of this work imparts to the viewer at least small hope that the creative can emerge from the destructive. Like other Neo-Expressionist painters, Kiefer summons mythic themes executed with compelling methods and emotions in order to explore what is possible through art.

Oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac, and straw on photo mounted on canvas - Toledo Museum of Art

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]