German Expressionism

What is German Expressionism? Well, it was initially an answer to realism which is great to express the skills of the artists, but when you are too faithful to the reality, the imaginary part of the artist always suffer.

Germans were not first expressionist, similar movement was already present in France in the beginning of 20th century, but artists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner who’s work is present bellow expressed their unique view which thanks to extreme circumstances made huge impact on the overall development of art and even today’s pop culture.

Let’s check some of the many Ernst Ludwig’s Kirchner’s self portraits to get the feel about the subject…


His models were often his personal friends


Self portrait


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner drinking


Self portrait with a cat

Few words about Ernst Ludwig Kirchner:

– he studied architecture

– with three fellow students (Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Fritz Bleyl and Erich Heckel) he established group called Die Bruecke (The Bridge) which symbolically tried to connect past and present artistic styles

– this group was very influential and many artistic styles borrowed ideas from Die Bruecke (in general they supported naturalism, primitivism, didn’t like abstract art and preferred expressing to just showing)

– Kirchner served in WW1 but due breakdown leaved the army and spend two years in sanatorium

– after Nazism came to power in Germany he was blacklisted as degenerated artist, lost his position in Dresden Academy, his paintings were destroyed or sold and after Germany occupied Austria, just before the WW2 started, he committed suicide.

One of the characteristics of German Expressionism was using ‘real’ people for models. So instead of professionals, they asked their friends, relatives, people from their social circles to pose and they tried to paint them in as much possible natural and spontaneous poses. Of course there was a lot of nudity, but I managed to find few ‘decent’ portraits as well:


Portrait of a woman


Woman in white

marzella model for kirchner

Marzella was one of Kirchner’s favorite models


Erna Schilling

When Kirchner returned from sanatoriums (yes, plural), he turned to landscapes and managed to produce several masterpieces where we can admire twisted buildings instead of distorted faces. Here are few:

german expressionism colors

Expressionism used colors in unique fashion


Berlin street by Ludwig Kirchner


Typical expressionistic distorted view


The Street is definitely one of signature paintings of German Expressionism

Why is German Expressionism so important part of world culture heritage?

The movement which included paintings, architecture and movies became really influential after World War, when the movie industry in Germany was isolated and tried to make as much as possible with limited resources and unpredictable results. Add the overall gloomy mood in Germany when extreme political parties started their way up to the absolute power, hyperinflation, general discontent of population and you got exceptional background for artistic production.

German film industry produced several masterpieces in this era. Frankenstein, Dracula and Nosferatu paved the way to horror movies, Dr. Caligari, Golem and Metropolis set way to film noir.

Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock (who actually worked as assistant and art director in Germany for some time and admitted this period marked him permanently) are only few of many movie directors who were influenced by German Expressionism and by their own works spread the ideas all over the world and to next generations.

The world will never be the same…