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Erpressionism

EXPRESSIONISM

The art of Diirer, Altdorfer, Bosch and others on the eve of the
ll,cflormation is marked by expressionistic qualities and particularly
lr.y an apocalyptic anxiety that appeals strongly to our century. Their

Norbert Lynton
All human action is

expressive; a gesturc is n,rr irrlrrrrtionally exAll art is expressive - of il,s a,rrl lror rr rrrl of the situation in which he works - but some art is inl,onrk'rl lo rrrovo us through
visual gestures that transmit, and perhaps givc rcL'lsr, l,o, emotions
and emotionally charged messages. Such ilr'(, is cxplr,ssionist. A lot
of twentieth-century art, especially in Ccrrt,r'al l,)urolrr', Iras becn of
this kind and the label'Expressionism'hirs lrccrr rrllrr.clrcd to it (as
also to comparable tendencies in literatunr, ir,l't'lrilcclrrrrr ilnd rnusic).
But there w&s never a movement called Ir)xprr'ssi,,rrisrrr.
Nor, of course, is this heightening of cx;rrcssir'(' pr\\'r'r'pcculiar to
twentieth-century art. Periods of crisis trspr,r'irrlll' slcrrr 1,o producc
artists who channel the anxieties of thoir tirrrc irrl, llr.ir rvorl<. Once
the personality of an artist was admittc<l irs rr, lIt'l,r'rlllcl'rrrining thc
character of a work of art, as it was incnrirsiru,,ll,rlrrlirr;1 l,hc llonaissance, art could function more and moro olrcnll' nrr n rr('ilns of sclfrevelation.fnthecontextofmodernindivirlrrrrlisrn llrrrrr',rtrkllrct,akcn
toextremes, buttheonlytrueinnovation l,lrrrl trr,,, l,'r'rr l,) xJrrcssiotrism
can show was the discovery that abstrtlt:1, <'otttP,)rillt,ttl'{ <,ottld sorve
at least as effectively as subject picturcs.'l'ltc sttlr.;r'r'1, lrrr,vittg scrvcd
pressive action.

as the vehicle for expressive gestures (to

31

sottrc.rl.nl

rrs l,ltc acccpt-

able sugar coating round thepill ofmca,rrirr;,), r',ul,l, rl u'rs f<rtrrtrl, bc


abandoned entirely. The expressive porvt,t' ,1'r',,l,,urr rn(l shapcs, of
brushstrokes and texture, of size and scalc u r s ril r,, \\ n l . l r<r suflicicnt.
This last development was stimulattxl lry rrrl rrrlr'rrrrrlrcnoss, increasing since the early nineteenth centtrr'.\,, .l llr,' ,lrl.r'l l.y a{ltcting
character of music. Here was a form of crcrrlir rlt llrrrl cornmrrrtic&ted without benefit of narrative or dcst:r'i1rl i,rr, rr rllr,ul, ov()n any
appeal to associational reflexes. Ut musi,r'(t, lntluttt liomanticism
also permitted a growing awareness, oftcn irrrlr,'ll,',1 1,1' rr:rLionalisrn,
of the freedoms enjoyed by extra-aca<L'rrric rrrlrrrl;t of' prcvious
centuries. Some of these could be scen as ltt'r'oir'l()r'r'r'unn()rs, offcring
alternative traditions to those of the acarl'rrri,';'

t'ontemporary Griinewald, painter of the famous fsenheim altarpioce of about 1515, has inspired admiration and direct imitation
ur our time. A book, published in Munich in 1918, u'ent furthcr back
rrr time, offering German illuminations from the eighth to the
lifteenth centuries as exempla for modern Expressionists and their
lrrrblic: its title, translated, is Erpressioni,st Miniatures of the German
Itidd,le Ages.The same public, by that time, could look to a growing
lrody of literature on folk &rt, on non-European art, on many sorts
,rf primitive art and the art of children and the insane, all familiarizirrg readcrs with alternatives to classical idealism.
But even the classicism-centred traditions of u.estern art, so
porverfully nurtured in Italy and France that other countries could
r,laim retrospcctively to have had their native genius masked by
rrlien fashions, contained elements that support Expressionism.
'l'hc Venetian tradition of dramatic lighting, rich colours and personal, sometimes impassioned brushstrokes, was to somc extent, an
r:xpressionist tradition. From it derive such painters as El Greco
(rvhose excessive fame dates from the beginning of this century) and
llembrandt. Even in Central Italy, where classical theory was defined
rlnd academies were founded to propagate it,, the personal urgency
that had lcd Michelangelo into vehemence and distcirtion was imitated
lry generations of lesser men with rapidly diminishing returns. Both
cxamples, of supercharged pictorial means and of compositional and
Iigurativc distortion, are important to modern Expressionism.
The Baroque.was concerned with audience response. In so far as,
in the service of church or crown, art, was intended to confirm faiths
nnd loyalties, expressionist methods were used to impersonal ends.
lfhc special efficacy for this of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the composite
u,ork in which many arts collaborated to one end, was exploited by
t,hc Baroque, sometimes in forms that could be transmitted to later
centuries. But it was also an a,ge of great individual artists. The
openly emotional qualities of Rubens's art made him an ideal model
for successors unwilling to adopt, the cooler disciplines of classicism;
not long after his death, Rubens had been made into the unu'itting

:\2

(lonce'pts of

Modtrn,lrt

champion of modernism and self-reliance. The Dutch school meanwhile developed new types of painting without benefit, of academic
prestige. fts interest in what might be called low-content subject
ma,tter - such as landscape and still-life - is an important factor in
the nineteenth century's exploration of expression through manner
rather than through subjcct. Rembrandt's use of colour, chiaroscuro
and the brush, of line and contrast in his drawings and etchings, of
subject matter even, \vas subjective to an unprecedented degree.
As his fame has increased, from around 1800, knowledge of his
c&reer has enabled us to represent, him to ourselves as the original
modern outsider, the genius rejected by society because he knerv its
grain and rvorked largely against it,.
Eightcenth-century enlightenment yalued order above individualism but this \\''as reversed with the coming of Romanticism.
Goya, Blake, Delacroix, Friedrich, were outstanding contributors to
a campaign of introspection, and to some extcnt of social questioning,
that su.ept, through all fields of art. fn Turner this inwardness \rras
combined wi'"h a fierce love of the energies of nature and the cncrgies
of paint on canyas. The modern concept of artistic creation being
rooted in unconscious personal and super-personal forces was proposed and discussed; the paradoxical convention t'hat unrestrained
individualism could produce universal truths was born. Classicism
itself lr,'as transformed. Re-established in a particularly purposive
form by David, Classicism became idiosyncratic and increasingly
abstract in the hands of fngres and others. ft 'lvas in the classicism
of fngres, not the Baroque Romanticism of Delacroix, that primitivism made its first major stylistic contribution.
The renelved romanticism of the later nineteenth century bccamc
thc immediate basis of modern Expressionism. Gauguin's rejection
of European civilization and his celebration of an alternative existence in emotional form and colour; Ensor's sudden revulsion from
fine painting in favour of an intcntionally shocking technique in
which to present, shocking subjccts; Munch's use of lrallucinatory
images in u,hich to give public form to his private miseries; Van
Gogh's passionate yet controlled deformation of nature and intensification of natural colour in order to create a porverfully communicative art - these rvere the immediate models for twentieth-century

il r'pressionism 3ll
painters seeking expressive means. The example of Rodin, who
could convey emotion forcefully through the surfaces and the
strained poses of his figures, offered a similar basis for modern
sculpture. The camera had meanwhile made straight naturalism a
commonplace. Art Nouveau, around the turn of the century, took
remarkable liberties wit'h normal appearances in order to exploit -f
the expressive, as well as the decorative, capacities of line, colour d { d
and form, rvhile psychologists tried to explain how our affections Ej.l
respond to such elements. Support and inducement came also from $ 'X f
many other directions - from the world of suffering and abnormd .1 i;
sensibility made graspable in the books of Dostoyevsky, from the i !f
t
aggressive manner and content of the plays of Ibsen and Strindberg, r ! 'l
from Nietzsche's hard bright vision of a world without God and the
challenging rhetoric in which he offered it ('he who u,ould bc a
cre&tor. . . must be a dcstroyer first and shatter values'), from the
mystical movements of the last hundred years and in particular
theosophy and Rudolf Steiner.
Expressionism has flourished most abundantly in modern Germany. The Sturm und, Drang movement, of the later eighteenth
century had been a pioneering attempt to break the hold of Mcditerranean culture on a Northern people, and German Bxpressionists of
thc early twcntieth century \vere steeped in its literature and ideas.
Politically and socially, modern Germany has been the most disturbed of European countries, 'lvith extremes of right- and leftminded citizens using extreme methods in thcir battles for supremacy
and disastrous wars to add to the miseries occasioned by over-rapid
industrialization and urbanization.
Thc German art rvorld 'w'as, and is, fragmented by the fact of
German federalism. The cultural life of each major town tends to be
in some degree separate from, and in competition rvith, the others'.
After 1900 Berlin became more and more the focal point of all the
arts, but Munich too u'as a centre of international importance, and
not far behind it came cities such as Cologne, Dresden, Ilanover.
Each had its academic establishment, balancing thc opportunities
each could offer to avant-gardists. Thus Berlin, while clearly the
meeting and displaying point, sooner or later, for any new movement,,
'ivas also the citadel of artistic reactiorr and firmly kept such by the

:l,l

(loncepts of Modern

Art

pcrsonal inyolvement of the Kaiser. After he went,

ilrpressi,oni,sm

in lgl8, the

general collapse of government in Germany greatly r.yeakened the


position of official art and groups and movements multiplied freely.
Meanwhile the press took profitable interest irr cultural adventures
and skirmishes, and there were always patrons to give some support
to new artists. Officialdom in Germany rvas over-eager to denounce
these as subversive. This forced them into allegiances that did not
necessarily spring from any deep political engagement on their

part, and gave Expressionism the character of a movemont of


political protest though in fact surprisingly few of the u,orks usually
thought of as expressionist make political points. It also guarantccd
artists an interested public among left-thinking peoplc. \Vhcro local
governments were progressive it could hclp thcm to placcs in prrblic
collections that avant-garde artists in othcr countrics lra,rl to rva,it
decades for. changes in the political balancc could protlrrc<r srrrlrkrn
changes in cultural policy. Gallerics and journals coulrl o{Irrr
lrirrt isa,n
backing to artists and groups, but throrrglrout Gcr.rniln.y irrl isls iLIso
worked as their own impresarios, bringing t,hcir art lxrforrr I lrr, lrrrlrlic
through collaborative organizations antl llrrblicat,ions.
Expressionism is associated principall.y .rvil,h l,rvo irrlirr.rrrirl gr.orrl)s
of artists: theDresdengroupthatcallcdilsclf'/)i.c llriirl;r.(llrt, lrr.irlsr,),
formed in 1905 and dissolved in l9Ili, anrl llrr, N{rrrri<:lr irr.l isls wlro
exhibited under the aegis of an almanaclr <rrrlilkr<l /)r,r. lllrrrrr, li.ilt,r
of which only one issue appeared, in 1{)12. Ol lrlr iu'l isls irrr. usrurll.y
grouped with these, such as Kol<oschl<a ll.orrr Vir.rrrrrr, rrrrrl li'r,irrirrsr,r',
the American-German. Some of thc a,rlisl s rvor.li.irrg irl, {lrt, lrcgirrning of the century at Worpsu'cdc, rr()ir,r' llr.r'rrrr,rr prrr.l icrrlirr.lv
Paula Modersohn-Becker - are sorn()tirrrcs st.r'rr irs piorrccr.s ol' llris
wave of Expressionism. The falrvc rnovrrrrrcrrl, irr I,iu'is, irsso<,irrlirrg
Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck and othtrrs ((lrr'.r,r 1'11,11,itcrl logcl lr,r. lirr.
the first time in 1905), is in many \\'ir.ys a rr'lir,lr'<l rrulrrili,sttl i.rr rrrrrl
probably had more influence on l,lro (lt,r.rnirrrs {lrirrr llrcf, 11.,,r,,, ,,,.,.,,
$'illing to allorv. The war of 1914 lu trrrrlrrrl I lrrr r,irn,t,r's ol'sorrrc ol llrrr
leading Expressionists and lcft :l vt'r'.y rlilli,rr.rrl, (lr.r'rrrirrr.y lr.lrirrrl ir,
and after l918 historical prirnac.y in a,r.t, is rrsurr,ll.y givcrr lo llrr: l)rrrl,r,
movement, particularly effcct,ivo irr ll,rlirr tlrrrirrg tlrr: lir.sl, lrosl -rvirr
ye&rs, to the art-and-indrrstr..y trssir,l,s ol'tlrr, lllr,rrlurrrs, ir,rrrl lo (lrc

35

movement against Expressionism of thc trventics u,hich was called


Die l{eue Sachlichkeit (the new objectivity). Thus the climax of
cxprcssionist painting came before the war, though the main cxpressionist, activity in litcraturc and (what there 'ivas of it) in architr.cture came aficr it.
Thc story is, of course, much more complicated than this summary
allor'vs. Above

all, it must be said again that there lvas never

rnovement o. a g.orp that announced itself as 'expressionist' and


defined its expressionist aims. The label itself camc quite late - in
l9ll, rvhen the Berlin Sccession cxhibition includcd a gallcry of
rvork designated as by Erpressionistett, - all of thcm from Paris:
Matisse and the Fauves, plus Picasso in his pre-cubist manner. By
1914 the label rvas put on Die Briiclce artists and others. It tended
to be applied to a lyholc gamut of intcrnational tendencies since
fmprcssionism and thought to be anti-fmpressionist. Thus Herw&rth Walden's booL< Erpressionismus, published in 1918, is subtitled 'the turning-point in art' and deals rvith moderrl moyements
in gencral. What he and others hoped to find in thc nerv art they
supportcd, to contrast r,vith both the realism and the hollor'v idealism

of the nincteenth century, l.as r,vhat thcy called Durch,geistigunlJ,


the charging of evcry action u,ith spiritual significance, r'vith soul.
The rvord Expressionism tended to mean nothing morc prccise than

anti-naturalistic subjectivism.

It rnay be argucd that this general

tendency is characteristic of Gerrnan culture, at any rate of German


culture &t momcnts of stress, u'hen its liaison with Hellcnism falters.
'The Gcrmans really arc a strange lot', said Goethe to Eckermann in
1827. 'They makc life unnecessarily difficult for themsclves by
loohing for deep thoughts and ideas cyerywhcre and putting them
into everything. Just have thc collragc to give yourself up to first
irnpressions . . . don't think all the time that everything must be
pointlcss if it, lacks an abstract thouglit or idca.' Impressionism itself
neYer flourished in Germany.

Thc young men of Die Briicke had no stylistic intentions. They


camc toget her in I905 - Ernst Ludu ig Kirchner ( I 880- I 938). Erich
Heckel (born 18"83), Karl Schmirlt-Rottluff (born 1884) and Fritz
Bleyl. Kirchner had spent, some months studying painting in
Munich; they were all architecture students. Switching from design

;t6

(loncr:pl,s of lIod.r:rn

,lrt

to art they werc moving in the opposite direction to that favoured


by scvcral of the leaders of Art Nouveau and Jwgend,sfzl, but their
intcntions wcre in a way similar: to address themselves to a wider
public. They had no theories. What they had to offer was youth and
irnpatience. Their pictures, prints and occasional sculptures recaptured some of the vigour that had gone out of German art
sincc the Renaissance came north. They had no programme. 'Everyone,' u'rote Kirchner in a manifesto of 1906, 'everyone belongs rvith
us who, directly and without dissimulation, expresses that which
drives him to create.' They hoped that all sorts of artists would
join, yet they give us no impression of expccting interest and friendship from any side: they were, by definition almost, without allegiances and affiliations. They knew something of the X'auves; they
admired Munch and gradually discovered Van Gogh; they became
passionately interested in African and other primitive arts. Rut the
only thing they shared .was a desire to act energetically, manfully.
Thus they hoped to get, through to a public unable to respond to the
polite and anaemic art of the academies. A fer'v others joined the
gronp for varying lengths of time: Noldc, Pechstein and Otto
Miiller are the best, known.
Emil Nolde (1867-1956) is regarded as the most powerful painter
among them. His membership lastcd only a fcw months, from 1906
into 1907. Of peasant origin, from Schlesrvig in the extremc north of
Germany, his vicw of the world was marked by a nordic pessimism
that lool<s bad-tempered beside the enthusiasm of Kirchner, SchmidtRottluff and Heckel (Bleyl contributed little and left the group in
1909). Their portraits, intcriors, landscapes rvith nudes, and cabarct,
cntertainers, for all the challcngc they offer to notions ofpolitc and
craftful art and the social implications of such art, are affirmative
statements and even suggest a modern Arcadianism. They rvorked
oflcn r.vith bright colours and asscrtively primitive form, and thcre
is at first no sign in their rvork of direct social comment or even of
pcrsonal anxietics. In lgtl the three moved to Berlin, where Max
l\'clrstcin and Otto Miillcr joined the group. Here Kirchner's work
r,lrtnqr,tl considcrably, becoming more ncryously agitated and gothic
irr rrulnncr, and generally their u.ork lost much of its warmth. It may
lrc l,lrrr,l thcir rclative isolation in Dresden had been the source of

Erprt:ssionism

37

their strength. Now these erstwhile amateur painters found themselves in the maelstrom of German art and art politics. X'rom now on
they are seen at their best in their graphic work, especially in their
woodcuts, indebted both to German prints of the Reformation
period and to Gauguin's and Munch's reyival of the medium

as a

very

personal means of expression.

By I913, when Die Briicke was dissolved, expressionist work was


being attacked by conseryative opinion as 'endangering German
youth' and as 'the daubs of lunatics'. Wilhelm von Bode, famous
tlirector of the Berlin museums, feared that the Expressionists
rvorked 'not out of innocent desire to create but with the ambition
to be noticed at all costs'. fmpressionism was still to many the archonemy of artistic decency; this wilder art that had come to replace
lrnpressionism w&s even worse and confirmed their fears. In l9l0
Nolde, Pechstein and others had formed a splinter group of the
Bcrlin Secession in order to emphasize their opposition to the hesit.ant Impressionism of Max Liebermann and his friends. This was
l,lrc Neue Sezession; Kirchner and the others joined it on arriving in
l

he capital.

Another organization came into being about this time: Herrvarth Walden's journal and publishing house Der Sturm started in
1910, and his art gallery of the s&me name opened in lgl2. Der
,\turm becamc a major force in publicizing German or Central
l4uropean avant-garde trends, but Walden achieved more than
llrat: he brought to Germany exhibitions of foreign art that r,vere
lroth influential upon and symptomatic of German interests. His
lirst exhibition, in March 1912, combined a one-man show of the
Atrstrian Oskar Kokoschka with a group show from the Blaue Reiter
;rainters of Munich. The next month Walden showed the ftahan
llrturist, exhibition that had recently made jts debut in Paris; here,
irr Berlin, these works attracted much more attention and many of
{lrcm tvere bought. The remaining months of lgl2 were deyoted to
rlrols of modern X'rench graphic art, paintings rejected from the
(lologne Sond,erbund, exhibition, the'French Expressionists', Bel,,ia,n painters including Ensor,

the Berlin l{eue Sezession, and orLe,rrln shows of Kandinsky, Campendonck (associated with Der Blque
lit'iter), Arthur Segal and others. (The Cologn e Sonderbund exhibition,

3i3 Cr,tncepts

of

llodern Art

of May to September 1912, was in itself a major avant-garde event,


including as it did avant-garde u'ork from all over Burope, such as
sixteen Picassos, five ofthem of 1910-ll, a room each for C6zanne
and Gauguin, and no less than 108 paintings and seventeen drar'r'ings
by Van Gogh; the rejected paintings werc largcly Blaue Reiter rvorks
but mostly by artists well represented in the exhibition by other
rvorks.) During the same year the Sturm journal publishcd. amollg
other things, futurist manifestos, excerpts from Kandinsky's Corzcerning the Spiritual in Art, Apollinaire's cssay 'Realite et peinture
pure' and L6ger's 'Les origines de la peinture contemporairie'. The
follorving year therelvere exhibitions of u,orli by thc Russialt sculptor
Archipenko, by Robert Delaunay, Kloc, thc l'rolch Cubist,s, li'ranz
Marc, the Italian Futurist Scverini attd othcrs, plus a Llrgtl shorv
entitled the First German Salon d'Autornno (I,'rslc l)r':u.1,:clr,c Ilerbstsalon, boruorving the name of the frctt I'aris cxhibition trstir,blishcd
in t90ll by Matisse and others) : it consistcd of lltiti itcrns 1rr,'rnoro than
eighty artists rvorking in America, Gcrntany, lrrattcc, T1,a,1.1', ll,trssia,
Su-itzerland, Spain, etc. Thus Walden brought to Bcrlin ils tnttclt as
he could of international modernism, and his public 'ivas Jrct,t,trr' informed about recent dcvelopments than anyone r,vas lilicl.y to bc irr
Paris or Milan, let alone London or Nerv York' His rango o['irtltrrcsts
included poetry and poetic drama and music, ficlds to rvhiclr lro personally contributcd. His activities, complemcnted by thoso o{'other
German individuals and centres, made Germany the lca<ling sliorvplace for the European avant-garde during the years just prtrccding
the First World War.
The most controversial among the individual artists hc backed
was ccrtainly Oshar Kokoschka (born 1886). Vienncse Art Norrvcau
tendcd to support escapism anddecadence, and the young I(ol<oschlia,
had used violent gestures to frec himself from its embra,cc. Hc took
pleasurc in drar'ving to himself the anger of the Yiennese public,
occasioned by his rvritings as much as by his pictures' 'I'oday it is a
little difficult for us to see anything radical in the nervousl.y clcgant
portraits of those J/ears. His drawings have a sharpness (comparable
to Schiele's) that is more emphatically expressionist, but his direct'
contribution to the wider world of Expressionism lies in his plays.
Murder, Ilope o.f Women (produced in 1909) ar..d ?he l)urning

Erpressionism

39

Thornbush (produced in l91f ) are milestones in the early history of


the expressionist theatre. Kokoschka arrived in Berlin in lgt0,
helped by the Viennese architect and writer Adolf Loos, and there
he found not only a number of rebellious artists but also a wellknown dealer, Paul Cassirer, who was ready to be interested in his
work, and a friend and subsequently a promoter in lferwarth Walden. His portrait of Walden, painted in the s&me ye&r, is one of his
finest works.
Kokoschka has impressed himself on the world as the Expressionist par ercellence. This is at least as much a matter of personality
as of production, and some credit must go to chance and circumstances. Vienna offered just the right balance of sluggish philistinism and spasmodic brilliance that the young man needed to develop
his sense of mission. His Czech background seems to have guarded
him against the inturned irony that prevents the Viennese from
secing themselves as heroes. In Berlin, in the Caf6 Grcissenwahn
(:megalomania) he was able to meet artists and writers of comparable fervour and here too he could stand out, untrammelled
by Berlin rationalism. Fate added such stories as the stormy love
affair rvith Alma Mahler, widow of the composer, which Kokoschka
celebrated in the painting Brid,e of the Wi,nd, (1914); even the wounds
he suffered in the war, a bullet in the head and Lhe Liebestod, of a
Russian ba5r6ns't thrust into his body, seem like tributes from the
cosmos to its favourite son. Later the Nazis confirmed Vienna's
opinion of the young man in denouncing him as degenerate - as they
denounced almost all unconventional artists - and he publicly embraced the epithet in his Self-Portrait of a Degenerate Artist (1937).

His arrogation of uniqueness - as man as .rvell as artist, as sufferer


as u'ell as creator - is archetypal. He might have said what the
poetcss Else Lasker-Schiiler wrote to Walden, her second husband:
'Ich bin nie ruit anderen Menschen zu messen gewesen'- 'it has never
lleen possible to measure me in terms of other human beings'.
Individualism of this sort was asserted in varying degrees and
rvith varying justification by many Expressionists. ff indeed ExJrressionism means anything it means the use of art to transmit
porsonal expericnce. The exploitation of personality appears to be
cssential to it, and this calls for a certain amount of conscious or

40

(ioncepts of Modern

il:rTtressionism

Art

unconscious posing on the part of thosc artists not too markedly


see why
ondorved, rvith personalities of their olvn' This helps us to
there coulcl be no stvle or fJroup or moYement that propcrly emborlies
Itrxprcssionism. It also illuminates a major distinction bctu'cen
so on'
Ex'prcssionists. Artists like Kirchner, Kokoschka, Nolde, and
the
on
self-expression
,rpi"o" to have reliecl on morc or less immediatc

a.s.,-ption that this, if sufficiently forthright, rvill readilY communicate itself to an unprejudiced spectator. Other artists felt the

necd to test their means and their urges, and gradually to fashion a
controllable language in .ivhich to formulate their personal messa,ges'
The artists of Der Blaue Reiter (the blue rider) rvere of this sccond
sori. Der Blaue Reiter u.as the name of the almanach which appeared
in l\{unich in May 1912. Its editors were Kandinsky and Marc and
they, ,the editorial board of Der Blaue Reiter" also organized tr'vo
in Munich, opening in Dccember 1911 and Fcbruary
"rhibitiorrs
lgl2. These two painters, and their closest painter friends - Macke,

Javlensky, Klee, Gabriele l\fiinter and ]\Tarianne von werefkin are the artists thought of nowadays as formin g lhe Bkr,ue Reiter
group. The cxhibitions included thcm, but also ranged cluite rvidely
ovcr modern BuloPean art.
wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) had arrived in Munich from
Moscorv in 1896 in order to make a late start on his career as artist.
He founcl himself in a city of lyrical naturalism and of Jugendstil,
and in his first paintings he combined the tu.o. Gradually, under the
influencc of Russian and Bavarian Primitivism, and following the
examplc of Fauvism (\r'hich hc studicd at first hand in Paris)'
I{anclinsky recluced the naturalism in his art and greatly extended
its lyrically exprcssive power. Glowing colours and somewhat fervont brushstrokes s.ere sufficiently communicative for him to depcnrl less and less on subject matter. At first he had tended to
he
,subjc,cts that now seem rathcr cloyingly romantic, but by l9l0
of
paintings
through
u'as able to be much more affectingly poetic
experisirnplilicd landscapcs, and in the samc year he made his first
mor.rt u,it,h completcly abstract art: his'ivell-known abstract'rvatercolorrr in u'hich patches of colour and gestures of the brush are
intoncktrl to carry the u,ork's meaning clirectl5z to the spectator. The
spcctator has to fccl his rvay into the composition rather than read

,11

it. During the following

years Kandinsky developed this subjectart further, not necessarily esche.ll.ing all hints of figuration but
placing his emphasis on the total expressiveness of his pictures and
a,t timcs using scmi-improvisatory techniques to get the greatest
lcss

possible immediacy.

Franz Marc (1880-1916) attempted a comparable move from an


object-orientated art to an art of lyrical expression. The role that
r.usic played in Kandinsky's creativc life, leading him into theoretical analysis as r,r,ell as encour&ging him in his pursuit of direct
<,xpression, u,'as played for }farc by animals. fn their eyes he s&w an
innoccnce lost by man, a oneness rvith the rhythms of nature from
u'liich man had been estranged, and he painted them as symbolic
inrages and also as objects of contemplation through rvhich to rcach
rrnlightenment,. He painted them continuously - flrst more or less
irnpressionistically, then more in the m&nner of icons lvith unnaturalistic colours and hieratic staging, and then, under the inlluence of l)elaunay, 'll.ithin a loosely geometrical structure. Ncvcr
virry raclical or forceful, supported by stirring but not rrery profbundly lvritten observations on life and art, and perhaps a little
slamourized by the sad accident of his death in the .ivar, Marc has
1lro distinction of being a popular modern artist.
The cxample of Delaun&y was of espccial importance also for
,\ugust,I,Iacke (1887-1914) and for Paul Klee (1879-1940). Kandin*l<y and Javlensky leant principally on thc rclatively open emotional
;rrt cif Fauvism;Marc, nlackc and Klee found in Delaunay a poctic
rrrrrl constnrctir.e sort of Cubism. When Kircl'rner and others .w,crc
rnlhrencecl by Cubism, they learnt from it, mainly formal and comlrrrsitional mcans of disruption ancl edgincss, thereas these Blaue
/iriler artists r-alued Ddaunay for his ltarmonies of colour and
{nrcturc. They sau, him as a builder and ttrus as thc direct son of
(',izannc.

l(a,ndinsky, Marc and some of the others hacl bcen members of the
:,,('ontly formed Munich 'Nerv Artists' Socicty', but resigned from

rl in 19ll over its

reluctance to acccpt Kandinsky's mor,,e into


rlrslraction. By this time l(anclinsky and Marc rvere already planthcir Blu,ue Reiter almanach. ft u.as to be a compila,tion of
',irr.!-{
, r'l iclcs to elucidate thcir ou.n attitudes, to.prcscnt likc-minded n.orl<

+2

(.lrtncrtpts

rtJ'

Motl.t:rn

in other places and othcr media, and to illustratc thc place of thcse
just
activities rvithin the rvider context of human creativity' Not
just
art as
civilizecl 'fine art' but also primitive art and design' Not
thc sport of civilization bui art as the vchicle of human hopes and
and
fearsl re[gious art. Not just art', but music also, poetry' drama
France'
B'ussia'
so orr. Noi j,st German,vork but contributions from
Itaty all linied by the desire to find new means of expression through
which to transmit the inner esscnce of humanity'
Der Blaue Re'iter contains ess&ys by l(andinsky, Marc and Macke'
by Arnold Schoenberg and others on music, by David Burlirrk on
are illusRussian art, and by Errt'in von Bussc on Dclaunay' There
art to
trations to show a, range of primitive art', from Bavarian folk
Egyptian shadow-play fi'gures, to shorv sophisticated art -of rnany
p"rina* from east arrtl ,r-"st, and to shorv modern rvorks by Blaue
-R"it",

artists and by others including C6zanne, Gauguin' Van Gogh'


lvorking
ll,ousseau, Matisse, Picasso, Delaunay and Arp (rvho rvas
Berg
in l\funich at the timc). Therc are music inserts by Schoenbcrg'
von
Hugo
of
memory
the
to
and Webern. The book is dedicated
Bavarian
the
directing
after
Tschudi. Tschurli had died in 1911

GallericsinNlunich.PreviouslyhehaddirectedtheNational
over
Gallcry in Berlin, until violent disagreements with the Kaiser
in
his buying of French nineteenth-century art led him to rcsign
the
apparentlv
was
resignation
his
1{)08. Th; spccific occasion of
paint'
Kaiser,s insistence that, Delacroix could neither draw nor

Tl.renameofWilhelmWorringerisofteninvokedinconnection
rvith Kandinsky's move into abstraction and with the general
attitndes shown by him and by his Blaue Reiter colleagues. worringer

irrlg07submitt,ed,andinlg08published,adoctoraldissertation
of
cntitlerl Abstraction antl ilmqtathy : a contribution to the Ttsychology
st,rlle.Intgllheissuedanot'herinfluentialwork'TrorminGoth'ic'Tro
attituclc to
t,h<,sc books hc distinguished betr'veen the outgoing
,.,trrr,. characteristic ofllassical art and the tendency to abstraction
in a more inimical
not,icca,blc in the artifacts of northern man, living
more aware
cnvirottrttt:ttt. I{is analysis served to make northerners
u'as
of tho alicn character of southern traditions, and though he
to
mostly conccrnccl with the distant past, his conclusions seemed
that
seems
it
Yet
traditions'
these
radical tlcpartures from
errri.og"

t_

E;rpressi.ottism.

tlrt

-1;l

Kandinsky and Marc rverc not av'are of Worringcr's support. fn


February 1912, rvhen they r.ere planning a second Blaue Reiter
volume, Marc wrote to Kandinsky: 'I have just been reading
lMorringer's Abstraction anil Empath!/ - aL acute mind that x,e could
rvell use. Marvellously disciplined thinking, taut and cool, very bold
cvcn,' implving that neither of them had knor'r,n the book previously
or its author. ft u,ould seem that the common elements in Worringer
anrl in them belonged to that time and place, partly on account of
Mnniclr's spccial role as a leading Jugendstil centre, and partly
through the tcaching at Munich University of Worringer's master,
Profossor Theodor Lipps.

Kandinsky's thinkins in particularly reflected ma,ny of tho ideas


and intirnations of his time. His Russian and Orthodox backgrounrl cncouraged in him a leaning tou,ards the. occult, anrl hc had
livcd in Paris and therc absorbed various crcativc influenccs, including that of the philosophcr Bergson. Hc rvas interested in
l,hcosophy antl attended lecturcs givcn by Itudolf Steiner in Munich.
Ir'acecl b5, developments in science and technology he chose the
oppositc path to tlrat travcllcd by Futurists and Constructivr'sts: he
lurred his back on the material r'vorld, or at least sought to rcdress
lhc imbalance causecl hy the lr.orld's cmpltasis on material prog-ress
Ir.y committing art to the u,orld of the spirit. His book, Ott, tlte
,\piritual in, Art,l,rittcn in 1910 and published in December 19II
{lroush clated 1912, had a significant success. Two furt}rer editions
lllpcarccl in 1912. fn the last days of December I9ll parts of it r-ere
rt'rcl and iliscussed by the Congrcss of Russian Artists in St Petcrslrrrrs. In l9l4 extracts from it appearcd in lVyndham Lcrris's
ll L :1 S'l' u,ncl a full translation into English, by Michael Sadlcr, u.as
lrrrlrlislicrl thc sarnt-' ycar in London and Boston.In 1924 a Japancsc
1r'rrnslation appeared in Tokyo, and there havc bccn many more
,'r I i1 ions of it, inclucling translat,ions into Irrench, Italian and Spanish.
IiandinsJ<y sought to connect the visual matter of art directly to
tlrt, inncr lifc of man. Abstraction r,vas not, essential to this, but
r;rllror the tuning of pictorial means to the emotional or spiritual urge
rr illrin thc artist. Instead ofreinforcing the false values ofa rnaterialisl ic society, art thus uscd lvould help people to recognize thcir ou.n

,piritual s.orlds.

41

Oct'ncepts of Modern

Art

The 'first exhibition of the editorial board of Der Blaue Reiter'


was similar in purpose to thc almanach: to offer a meeting place for

all those efforts, in Kandinsky's words, 'so noticeable today in all


fields of art, whose basic tendency is to extend the previous limits
of the possibilities of expression in art'. Apart frorn Blaue Reiter
paintings it included several foreign works, a,mong them pictures by
the Russian brothers Burliuk, by Delaunay and by Henri Rousseau
(two paintings, recently acquired byKandinsky). This rvas Delaunay's
first, showing in Germany; in 1913 he had a one-man shorv at the
Der Sturm gallery in Berlin. The second Blaue Reiter cxhibition l'as
confined to graphic art and included items by such invitcd foreigners
as Picasso, Braque. Delaunay, Malevich, Larionov and Goncharova.
The years l9l2-14 saw groups of Blaue Reiter paintings cxhibitcd in
several German cities, especially in Berlin and Cologne. Apollinaire's
lecture on Orphism at Der Sturm, in 1912, reinforced tha Blaue
Reiter artists' self-idcntification rvith an international movcmont of

constructive yet lyrical art.


Then came the v'ar. Macke and Marc lost their lives. I(andinsky
returned to Moscow and soon found himself involved in politicnl and
cultural revolutions that affected his art. Klee, alu,ays rkrtaclrcd,
withdrew even more into himself. 'The more fearful llris rvorld
becomes, as at this moment, the more art becomes alrslritct,,'Ite
rvrote in 1915, echoing Worringer. Yet many other artisls rnovt'rl in
the opposite direction. While the experience of lvar lul rrirrt.y irr'1 ists,
especially in'ivestern Europe, to discngage their art frotn I lrc sl r'rrsslo
for modernism and to return to comforting aesthetic trarliliorrs, sornc
German artists lr.ere moved to use their art as & rncilns ol'prrrlt'st.
Most of these came from the descriptive art o[' (lt'r'rrrrrt st'rttiImprcssionism. Thcy adoptecl the energctic rna,rrrrcrs o| liriioke
Expressionism, as rvell as symbolical deviccs 1,lrrrl, go lr:rr:l< lo thc
timc of Dtirer, in order to statc forcibly thcir lrvtrlsi<lrt it,t, t lrc 1rv1'111s
of their time. IIany of thesc artists arc ralrl.y lrcir,r'rl ol'lrxlir.1,;orr tht:
r.r.hole their diatribes lacked the artistic qrralilics llrl1, <:oukl lrlve
given them permanent value. But from lo\\' on, rrrrtil 1ota,lit,it,t'iirrrisrn
calls a halt, protcst art of this sor1, continrrcs u'hilc o[lrcr rrrovcrrrr.nts
rise and fall around it.
German art of the post-rvar y()trs lontls to lx: grorrylt'tl rrrrrlcr

Erpressionisnt

15

Objectivity and Elementarism (I use


lrllomentarism to indicate the several movements that became
r.ll'cctive in Germany from 1920 on rvhich were concerned with exploiting geometrical form as such, under the influence of Russian
rrnd Dutch radicalism). These labels, or the thoughtless clinging to
llrcm, interfere to an exceptional extent I'ith any proper underst anding of rvhat the artists rvere doing. fn Germany particularly the
rlivisions 'which they imply did not exist and r,verc rarely felt to
t,xist at thc time. German artists of contradictory persuasions
rrollaborated through associations and groups, moyed freely betu,een
l,hem, felt at liberty to changc their allegiances and did not attach
overmuch importance to their dcclarations of vesterday. Thus
ll,ichard Huelsenbeck's sr.vingeing and fairly accurate attack on
It)xpressionism publishcd in the Dada Almanach of 1920, did not
prevent artists associated rvith German Dada from acting like
"lt)xpressionists. Thc art of George Grosz (1893-Ig5g) could not have
cxisted rvithout thc cxample of Briicke and Blq,ue Reiter graphics. If
it, u,as the purpose of Dada to challenge civilization by shou,ing up
l,he pointlessness of culture, thcn Grosz rvas not, really a Dadaist.
He used his art to denounce rottenness of the social structure u,ithin
u,hich he livcd, and his method u'as a semi-naturalistic exaggerating
of situations rvhere this rottenness becomes blatant - rvhich sounds
vcry much like Exprcssionism. Thc photomontages of John Heartficld (1891-1968) arc closer in character to German Expressionism
t,han to the Cubism from rvhich in theory they derive. The New
Objectivity of thc mid trventies rvas intendcd to offer a rcturn to
naturalism in opposition to the supposedly obscure art of Expressionism, yct this art no longer looked particularly obscure and was if
anything already too conventionally accepted a part of the modern
art, scenc. The best of the painters associated with thc Ne.iv Objectivity r,vas Max Beckmann (1884-1950). He had been weaned from
fmpressionism by the impact of u.ar. His paintings of around lg20
are undoubtedly rvorks of protest, but the powcr of his imagination,
rvorking through a complex style lvhich is an amalgam of many
rnodern and ancient influcnces, lifts them above the emergencies of
the moment. They are images of human existence amid extraordinary internal and cxternal pressures. fn a book of lg25 entitled
srrch labcls as Dadaism, I{erv

-16

(l onccTtts

ol' llorLtrtr

,lrt

' Post-Expressionism' (I{ o,ch- E rptressioni.smus), Franz Roh proposed


the label Magic Realism for the variety of scri{i-naturalistic luorhs
asscmbled as l{ew Objectivity in a Mannheim exhibition the same
year. Yet it would be difficult to dra,lv any firm lines betrveen the
rvork of Beckmann, Otto Dix, and others and thc figurative lr.orks of
Die Briiclce. What the new grouping did strcss rvas thc rcjcction of
abstract art, both thc lyrical abstraction of l(lee and Kandinsl<y
and thc apparcntly more radical Elementarism brought in from
Holland and Russia.
l,ittle need be said of German sculpture under this hcading. Both
the dignified though pathctic figurcs of Wilhelm Lehrnbruck (I881Iglt)) and tlrc more lolksv, rncdicvalizing figrrrcs oI Errrsl. ]Jarlach
(1870-1938) coulcl r'vcll bo part of thc Ne'r, Objectivity rnovement
though they mostly bclong to thc previous decadc. Ii)xprcssion
through some degree of distclrtion, thouglr u,ithout loss ol'Ira,rrnciny
and rvithout abandoning honourccl traditions of sculptrrr<), il,ppcars
to bc thc limit, of this art, nnrl slightJy lcss u,cll-l<nou,n sculptors
(such as Gcorg Kolbe, f877-1947) of' thc samc gonoral,ion stayed
.rvell u,ithin the samc limit.
Somc German (and Dutch) axlritcct,rrre has bccn <lt,scrilrud as
exprcssionist. It is difficult to fin<l a rrseful dcfinition of ilrchitcctural
Exprcssionism, but at thc samo linro there can bc no <l<lrbt that
ccrtain architects cmphasizcd tlrcir incli'i,iduality in rvays 1,lra,t sccrn
moro or less comparable to tl.roso of cxprcssionist ar'1 isl s. Itrr'ich
Mendclsolrn (l887-1953) is thc outsta,nrling cxamplc of 1,lris: ir, rnan
lvliose skctches are visionary and lr''lrosc cxecuted brrilclings lord to
have a monttmental ancl cxprcssivc chara,cter. Thc u'rrr llrrI immcdiatc post-lvar ycars gave arclrii,ccts more opportunit.y 1,o rlroarn
groat drcams than to realize thom in constructcd fact,. N{r.rrrlclsohn
u-as fortunate in being commissiolrcd, in the Einst,oirr 'l'oucr of
l92O-21, to design a functional l-xrilcling that at thc sa,rrrc tirrrc 11,61s
tt-r celebrate the greatness of a scicntist. Sirnilarly IIrr,rrs I'or,lzig
(1869-1936) u,as lucky to bc askcd by }fax llcinharclt 1,o lrir,rrslorm

formcr l.arehouse and circus intcl tlrc G ros.se.s Sclruu,,spid.h.oir.s ( I 1)l {)) ;
again an opportunity to give physical rcality to sorrtc pirr'l, o['1hc
fantastic projects that had to rcnrain orr papor. In ll- I 1) lr,rr r,x lr ilril ion
at the J. B. Neumann gallery in Borlin, thc'cxhiliit,ion ol'rrrrllronn
a

tr)

rpressi,ottism

+7

:lrchitects', brought together sketchcs and modcls of a generally


visionary sort. There could be no stylistic cohercnce, and gcnerally
llre influence of Jugend,stil was still very strong, but, the exhibits
promised a new architectural world of light and colour, joy and
cxcitcment - a countcrpart, perhaps, to the lakc-side romps promised
lry many Briicke pictures. One of the organizers, thc architect
Bruno Taut, during 1920-22 published a journal Friihli,cht (:carly
Iight, dawn; it ll,as flrst a supplcment to an architectural magazine,
thcn an independent publication), that, gathered in illustrations and
a,rticlcs of the sa,me sort. ft, is noticeable that the later issues of
Friihlicht (1921-2) arc rnore and more concerned with practical
problems and with realizable projects. Some continuation of expressionist visionary design can bc found in the stage and studio
sets of the German thcatre and cinema in thc early twcnties. fn
cvery respect other than the fine arts, the years f918-23 mark the
climax of Exprcssionism.
It was in l9l9 also that Walter Gropius opened the Bauhaus in
Wcimar. This u,,as to become famous as the school that pioncered
the teaching and practicc of modern industrial and architectural
dcsign, but initially the Bauhaus too stood under the sign of Expressionism. Gropius (born 1883) had been involvcd in the Neumann
gallery cxhibition and he also contributed to Uriihlicht. The staffhe
assembled in Weimar consistcd almost exclusively of painters and
thc most important of thcsc - Feiningcr, I(lee, Kandinsky - are
Exprcssionists. But they arc Expressionists of the constructive sort,
the tslaue Reiter sort. This applics too to. the painter who dominated
the school during its first four years, Johannes Itten (1888-1967).
Itten, of S-lviss origin, had turned to painting from scientific
studies aftcr looking at Blaue Reiter art in Munich and at Cubism
in Paris. He had thcn studied in Stuttgart under Adolf Hcilzel rvho
based his teaching on the affectivc powcr of colour and form, as
separate from subject matter. In 1916 Ittcn opened a private paint,ing school in Vienna. Ife 'w,as the entirc tcaching staff of this school,
and his students varicd considerably in abilities and inclinations,
and thus Itten discoycred .ivhat has becomc knolvn as the basic or
foundation course, an initial course dcsigned to familiarizc the
student 'lvith the charactcr of thc materials he handles and tlre

,+8

Concepts ol lloder"n

Art

potentialities of the means of his art,. Gropius brought Itten to


Weimar to run a similar course at the Bauhaus. Itten retrospectively
stressed another function of his course, 'the self-discovery of thc
individual as a creative personality'. This sounds very much like the
fi.rst stcp towards being an Bxpressionist. What we knorv of the
exercises ftten sct his students, as well as of his own rvork in painting and typography, shou,s clearly that he was advocating an art of
expression, both through the abstract means ofart and also through
subject matter and dramatic emphasis. He resisted Gropius's
attempt, in 1922-3, to lead the Bauhaus from its concern with artistic self-expression tor'vards an objective involyement, in socially
useful design, and early in 1923 he had to be asked to leave the
school.

The trvo most famous Blaue Reiter painters, Klee and Kandinsky
continued to teach there: Klee until 1930, and Kandinsky from the
cnd of 1922 until the school closed in 1933. For this purpose both of
them had to attempt some formulations of their understanding of
art and creativity. Klee's teaching has now been published in part,
as The Thinking Eye (edited by Jiirg Spiller). Kandinsky's didactic
NexL, Point and, Line to Plane, u,'as published as one of the 'Bauhaus
Books' in 1926. It is an attempt to codify the sensual and emotional
value of colours and forms so as to enable the artist to control the
expressivc means at his disposal. Kandinsky's own work, in the
1920s, Iost much of its impetuous character and became morc con-

trolled and, it would seem, more lastingly effective. His book, or


perhaps merely its title, has the distinction of having misled art
teachers of later generations to take a rather simplistic and mechanical vierv of what a basic course might entail.
It u,-ould be possible to go on and point to large and small outcrops of Expressionism in subsequent art and design. To what extent are Rouault, Chagall, Soutine, Sutherland Expressionists?
They are probably better seen &s expressionists, not part of the

broad trend that warrants the capital letter. At another level of


argument one might rvish to prove that so obviously unExpressionist an artist as Mondrian was driven by a passionate need to find the
most concentrated, minimal vehicle through which to communicate
his rather recondite understanding of life and nature, and that this

il

r pressi.on'ism

49

is expressionism of a sort. Since the Second World War there


has been a succession of expressionist r,vaves, in modelled and con-

1,oo

structed sculpture as well as in painting, figurative and abstract.


It rvas to some extent the American trend known as Abstract
Expressionism that drew our attention back to Kandinsky's
generation.