In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Expressionism

  • Introduction
  • Artists’ Manifestoes and Other Writings
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies and Indexes
  • Theory and Criticism
  • The Expressionist Print
  • Patrons and Champions

Art History Expressionism
Reinhold Heller
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0027


Like many period and movement designations, expressionism lacks a consistent set of identifying criteria. Unlike terms such as impressionism, cubism, or fauvism, however, it was not invented for use pejoratively by critics, but rather to designate newer developments in the arts, especially in German-speaking areas of central and northern Europe, beginning around 1910. Rooted in the concept of expression, it accented a highly subjective artistic disposition dependent on the individual artist’s emotive response to, and visualization of, the external environment and the experiences of life. “Expressionism” continues to be used in this amorphous manner, especially in art criticism. For purposes of art history, more useful is the identity of expressionism as German expressionism. Both geographically and temporally limited, this identifies the major tendency not only in progressive visual art, architecture, literature, and music, but also in stage design and film, during the years 1905–1924 in the late German Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the early Weimar Republic and Austrian Republic. In the visual arts, two major groups of artists constitute the paradigmatic representatives of expressionism. Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff founded the Künstlergruppe Brücke (Artists’ Group Bridge) in Dresden in 1905; the group dissolved in Berlin in 1913. In Munich in 1911, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) was formed by Wassily (Vasily) Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Gabriele Münter as an exhibition society; with the outbreak of World War I, the group dispersed. Not directly allied with these groups, isolated artists in Berlin—especially Ludwig Meidner and Lyonel Feininger— and Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele in Vienna are generally recognized as expressionists. Other artists associated with them through exhibitions or galleries likewise have been identified as expressionists. Recently, younger artists active during and after World War I also have been identified as a “second generation” of expressionists (see Stephanie Barron, ed., German Expressionism, 1915–1925: The Second Generation [Los Angeles: Munich: Prestel, 1988]). Well into the 1950s, expressionism was deeply embroiled in contemporary political and ideological conflicts; consequently, studies and exhibitions of expressionist art often were marked by ideological concerns as much as historical or aesthetic ones. Not until the later 1950s did studies of expressionism lose this political thrust and replace it with archival research and studies of stylistic development. Since the 1970s, the focus on style and formal values has decreased as expressionism’s patronage, subject matter, motifs, practice, and exhibition strategies, as well as its critical reception, began to be scrutinized and as additional artists were incorporated into the purview of expressionism. This article focuses on expressionism as a movement and, therefore, monographs for individual artists are not listed.

Artists’ Manifestoes and Other Writings

Manifestoes punctuate the history of expressionism, beginning with the founding manifesto of the Künstlergruppe “Brücke,” which is treated in Kirchner 1905. Most of these are available in the Anthologies. Separately published or book-length writings are listed here. Although not totally divorced from it, these texts establish less a theory of artistic production, separately covered in the section Theory and Criticism, than statements of positions vis-à-vis the art establishment, previous art movements, or contemporary society and its values. Katalog zur Ausstellung der K. G. “Brücke”1910 (Arnold 1988) faithfully reproduces the catalogue for the Brücke’s last exhibition in Dresden in 1910, originally consisting of woodcuts and texts by the artists. Vinnen 1911 condemns recent developments in German art in a collection of texts today often interpreted as prefiguring the Nazi Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) arguments of the 1930s. Im Kampf um die Kunst: Die Antwort auf den “Protest deutscher Künstler” responds to Vinnen’s tract with texts written by expressionist artists, museum directors, and critics, including Wilhelm Worringer. Kandinsky and Marc 2005 originally was published to coincide with the first Blaue Reiter exhibition in Munich in 1912, and, in its compilation, it represents expressionism’s aim to advance the synthesis of all arts. An alle Künstler! (Becker, et al. 1919) is dominated by the utopian hopes of German artists for art, art education, and society after World War I.

  • Arnold, Galerie (Dresden). “Katalog zur Ausstellung der K. G. ‘Brücke’ 1910.” In Kataloge epochenmachender Kunstausstellungen in Deutschland, 1910–1962. Edited by Eberhard Roters. Cologne: Walther König, 1988.

    Facsimile of the woodcut catalogue with introduction for the last Brücke exhibition in Dresden, offering a brief subjective history of the group.

  • Becker, Robert B., Max Pechstein, César Klein, et al. An alle Künstler! Berlin: Kunstanstalt Willi Simon, 1919.

    Collection of utopian manifestoes and programmatic statements by expressionist artists and writers calling for a revolutionary transformation of society through art following the German November Revolution of 1918. Contributors included the poet Johannes R. Becher, the dramatist Walter Hasenclever, the writer and radical politician Kurt Eisner, and the artists Lyonel Feininger, César Klein, Ludwig Meidner, Max Pechstein, Hans Richter-Berlin, Milly Steger, and Georg Tappert. The manifestoes by Eisner, Meidner, and Pechstein are included in Washton Long 1992 (cited under Anthologies).

  • Im Kampf um die Kunst: Die Antwort auf den “Protest deutscher Künstler.” Munich: R. Piper, 1911.

    The “response” to Vinnen’s 1911 tract against French influence, with statements by forty-eight artists and twenty-seven collectors, critics, and museum directors compiled by Alfred Walter Heymel and Franz Marc.

  • Kandinsky, Wassily (Vasily), and Franz Marc, eds. The Blaue Reiter Almanac. Documents of Modern Art. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2005.

    Klaus Lankheit’s “new documentary edition” of the Almanac (Munich 1965), translated here, adds a history and documents related to it, plus a bibliography by Bernard Karpel (also published in 1974 [New York: Viking]). Includes illustrations of contemporary and medieval European art, German and Russian folk art, and children’s drawings and non-Western artworks. Includes fundamental essays by Wassily (Vasily) Kandinsky, August Macke, Franz Marc, and Arnold Schoenberg as well as Kandinsky’s play The Yellow Sound and musical scores by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton von Webern, and Alban Berg.

  • Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig. Künstlergruppe Brücke. Dresden, Germany: The Artist, 1905.

    The woodcut founding manifesto of the Dresden artists’ group Brücke (Bridge) usually cited to mark the beginnings of Expressionism. Illustrated and quoted in virtually all histories of Expressionism. Slightly varying translations are offered in Miesel 1970 and Washton Long 1992 (both cited under Anthologies) and in Heller 2009, cited under Brücke in Dresden and Berlin, 1905–1913).

  • Vinnen, Carl, ed. Protest deutscher Künstler. Jena, Germany: E. Diederich, 1911.

    A notoriously chauvinistic collection of statements by 120 German artists and critics that objected to the influence on German artists of contemporary non-German, notably French, art and its influx into German museums.

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