History of Expressionism

As a movement, the term expressionism usually denotes the late-19th century, early-20th century schools of emotive or interpretive art, which emerged in Germany as a reaction to the more passive style of Impressionism. The word expressionism was first used in 1850, mostly to describe the paintings where an artist’s strong emotions were clearly depicted. The popularity of Expressionism increased when Antonin Matějček in 1910 coined the term. With this word the Czech art historian intended to denote the opposite of Impressionism and indicate one of the main currents of art that expresses highly subjective, personal, spontaneous self-expression typical of a wide range of modern artists. Whereas the Impressionists sought to express the majesty of nature and the human form through paint, the Expressionists, according to Matějček, sought to express their feelings about what they saw.

Expressionism first emerged in 1905, when a group of four German students guided by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner founded the Die Brücke (the Bridge) group in the city of Dresden. A few years later, in 1911, a like-minded group of young artists formed Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich. Kandinsky and Franz Marc where its founders, whilst Paul Klee and August Macke were amongst its members. These two groups became the foundation of the German Expressionism movement. Since then, Expressionism became a widely recognized form of modern art.

Expressionism had its most direct impact in Germany and continued to shape the country's art for decades after the First World War. While certain artists rejected Expressionism, others continued to expand its innovative art and style. Other forms of the movement developed in France, Paris, and Austria. The Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement was influenced by the highly emotional tenets of Expressionism, while the Neo-Expressionists emerged in Germany and then in the United States reprising the earlier Expressionist style.


Text by Cristina Motta

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