August Macke, Lady in a Green Jacket, 1913, oil on canvas, 44 x43,5 cm, Haubrich Collection 1947 description of the image
The chief contribution that Germany made to modern art was Expressionism, which arose early in the 20th century. It is difficult to find a common stylistic denominator for this movement, although the Expressionists did all share an anti-academic and anti-middle class stance. They rebelled against the mimetic approach in academic art and against the aura of the artistic genius. Instead they took their inspiration from true innovators such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch and James Ensor. In addition, the Expressionist artists felt a great admiration for the reduced forms of African and Oceanic art. Their professed aim was not to depict outer appearances but to lend expression to their own inner feelings. This led to a radical reappraisal of the means at their disposal. The colours moved increasingly away from the subject and were liberated from their descriptive function. In addition they introduced a fleeting brushstroke full of movement, while the forms were often painted in a distorted manner amid contorted perspectives.
Selected works of the Expressionists' collection are currently part of the new presentation 'Modernist Masterpieces - the Haubrich Collection at Museum Ludwig'.
The birth of Expressionism was ushered in by the founding of the artists group "Die Brücke" (= The Bridge) in Dresden in 1905. Four young students - Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Fritz Bleyl and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff - met up while studying architecture at the Dresdner Hochschule. None of them had trained as a painter, and the oldest was a mere 25. With no artistic programme, but in the firm belief that it was time to overthrow the hoary old traditions of art, they decided to "build a bridge" to new shores. The art produced by the "Brücke" underwent two phases: the Dresden and the Berlin periods. During the former period, the artists chiefly painted nudes in the open. Unlike the painters in the academies, they placed importance on spontaneous expression in their portraits and nudes. They dispensed with professional models and chose instead people from their own backgrounds. Often they only allowed their models to hold a pose for a short while. After their move to Berlin in 1911 they changed their motifs and their approach to painting. This is particularly apparent in Kirchner's work. The hectic bustle of the big city comes across directly in his garish colours, the jagged forms and the nervous brushstrokes. The group disbanded in 1913.
Along with Dresden and Berlin, Munich also became a centre of Expressionist art. Two years before the "Brücke" broke up, a loose group formed under the name "Der Blaue Reiter" (= The Blue Rider), which include among others Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter, August Macke, Alexej von Jawlensky, Paul Klee and Alfred Kubin. The group took its name from an almanac published by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, which featured articles by like-minded intellectuals on contemporary art movements, as well as paintings by the "Brücke", the Russian avant-garde, and Cubism and Orphism from France. The exhibitions organised by the "Der Blaue Reiter" group in the years 1911/12 also included artists from a variety of backgrounds and stylistic orientations, which led to a very stimulating dialogue between the different currents of the avant-garde. In their search for a new form that would give undistorted expression to their innermost feelings, the "Der Blaue Reiter" found artistic inspiration in naïve art. Works from outside the realm of "high art", such as folk art or the work of "primitive" peoples, as well as children's drawings and the art of the mentally ill, exerted a strong influence on their work. The artists of the "Blauer Reiter" were also concerned with a spiritual dimension. They aimed to release themselves from the world of visible things, which developed under Kandinsky's lead into abstract or non-objective painting.
The foremost representative of Rhenish Expressionism, August Macke, was closely connected with "Der Blaue Reiter". Although he lived in Bonn, he participated in the group's exhibitions and wrote for the almanac. In 1913 he exhibited along with other Rhenish artists in Bonn. The title "Ausstellung Rheinischer Expressionisten" [= Exhibition of Rhenish Expressionists] showed his allegiance to Expressionism, even if to his own unique version of it. Unlike the ecstatic style of the "Brücke", Macke's art was coloured by a yearning for harmony. His idyllic scenes depicting the flâneur are the most prominent examples of his clear, balanced approach to composition and his understanding of paint as a medium of light. He also differed from "Der Blaue Reiter" in the rigorous representationalism in his paintings. The First World War marked a breach in the development of Expressionism, when many of the artists were called for military service. With Marc and Macke, major representatives of this movement fell victim of the war. Others returned, shattered by their experiences on the front.