A broader Expressionist movement was sweeping through northern and central Europe, deeply influencing fields like architecture, dance, painting, sculpture, and even cinema. The birth of German Expressionism was in Germany before the First World War with its peak during the 1920s in Berlin. Drawing inspiration from Van Gogh’s pioneering pieces such as Wheatfield with Crows and Starry, Starry Night, German expressionist painters usually distorted color, scale, and space in order to convey their own feelings about what they saw. This was in stark contrast to Impressionists, whose style sought to merely imitate what nature presented to them. German Expressionism became a bitter protest movement and style of modern art after the war scarred and embittered many of the artists.
The German Expressionist school was spearheaded by Henri Matisse and Ernst Barlach, an emotive wood sculptor, who were heavily influenced by Van Gogh and Evard Munch. Their art created dramatic and compelling portrayals of scenes and people with the rise of three distinct groups within the movement: Der Blaue Reiter, Die Brucke, and Die Neue Sachilchkeit.
In 1905, Die Brucke or The Bridge was an influential expressionist group based in Dresden founded and led by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. This group within the art movement had art which portrayed radical social views through modern urban landscapes and figures. Its garish color palettes, bold outlines, and direct compositions are reminiscent of primitive painting like Paul Gaugin’s with incorporation of African and Oceanic motifs and tribal arts.
Der Blaue Reiter, or the Blue Rider, expressionist group flourished from 1911 to 1914. Its foundation laid in Munich with its most famous painters being Russian born Wassily Kandinsky and the German painter/printmaker Franz Marc. Unlike Die Brucke, the Blue Rider were closer to a loose association. Their general goal and ideal laid in imbuing art with spiritual values with color as its primary vehicle. Questions have arisen about the significance of their name Blue Rider. People often point towards Marc’s belief that animals had an innocence which inherently made them superior to humans, as well as Kadinksy’s special affinity to the color blue which might have been tied to his synaesthesia, or hear colors. With the emergence of World War I, the group collapsed since Macke and Marc were both killed.
The 1920s brought forth Die Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity, which took its name from the exhibition Neue Sachlichkeit staged in Mannheim in 1923. Otto Dix and George Grosz spearheaded the movement with their bitter and highly critical images of both the decadence and corruption of Weimer Germany as the satirical equivalent of the human condition around the globe. Other New Objectivity artists include Christian and Max Beckmann, while pieces which were notable during the era include Dix’s Pimp with Prostitutes (1922) and Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926), Grosz’s Suicide (1926), and Schad’s Self Portrait with Model (1927). The Die Neue Sachlichkeit art was eventually condemned by the former artist, Adolf Hitler, calling it “degenerate art”.