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Ernst Ludwig KirchnerErnst Ludwig Kirchner
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Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
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Käthe KollowitzKäthe Kollowitz
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Paul KleePaul Klee
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Chaim SoutineChaim Soutine
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Max BeckmannMax Beckmann
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"Everyone who renders directly and honestly whatever drives him to create is one of us."

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Signature

Summary of Expressionism

Expressionism emerged simultaneously in various cities across Germany as a response to a widespread anxiety about humanity's increasingly discordant relationship with the world and accompanying lost feelings of authenticity and spirituality. In part a reaction against Impressionism and academic art, Expressionism was inspired most heavily by the Symbolist currents in late-19th-century art. Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and James Ensor proved particularly influential to the Expressionists, encouraging the distortion of form and the deployment of strong colors to convey a variety of anxieties and yearnings. The classic phase of the Expressionist movement lasted from approximately 1905 to 1920 and spread throughout Europe. Its example would later inform Abstract Expressionism, and its influence would be felt throughout the remainder of the century in German art. It was also a critical precursor to the Neo-Expressionist artists of the 1980s.

Key Ideas

The arrival of Expressionism announced new standards in the creation and judgment of art. Art was now meant to come forth from within the artist, rather than from a depiction of the external visual world, and the standard for assessing the quality of a work of art became the character of the artist's feelings rather than an analysis of the composition.
Expressionist artists often employed swirling, swaying, and exaggeratedly executed brushstrokes in the depiction of their subjects. These techniques were meant to convey the turgid emotional state of the artist reacting to the anxieties of the modern world.
Through their confrontation with the urban world of the early-20th century, Expressionist artists developed a powerful mode of social criticism in their serpentine figural renderings and bold colors. Their representations of the modern city included alienated individuals - a psychological by-product of recent urbanization - as well as prostitutes, who were used to comment on capitalism's role in the emotional distancing of individuals within cities.
Detail of <i>Self-Portrait with Cigarette</i> (1895) by Edvard Munch
Detail of Self-Portrait with Cigarette (1895) by Edvard Munch

On a walk he took with two friends at sunset, Edvard Munch described how "suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood .. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature." Expressed in his painting The Scream (1893), his emphasis upon intense inner experience set the path for Expressionism, defined by Ernst Kirchner as mirroring "the sensations of a man of our time."

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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
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First published on 01 Oct 2012. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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