Art Movements Throughout History: Expressionism

A painting done in the style of Van Gogh. Van Gogh is a token example of Expressionism.

Expressionism is a form of art that seeks to bring out the raw emotions of the artist. This form of art emerged in a uniform and widespread manner in various German cities as a way to bridge the relationship between the world, emotions, and spirituality. It was the opposite of the rigid Academic Art movement and the nature glorifying art of Impressionism. The earliest expressionists seemed to encourage form distortion and the use of bright colours to express the artists’ anxieties and desires.

History of Expressionism

The birth of Expressionism is accredited to some earlier Impressionists who later made a shift in their form of art for better expression of their sentiments and the impacts of the changing society on their lives. Two of these artists are Edvard Munch from Norway and Gustav Klimt from Austria. In 1905, the art officially emerged in Germany’s Dresden City with the formation of a group called The Bridge. It was formed by four students who aspired to be painters.

Six years later, another group called the Blue Rider was formed in Munich by young artists who protested the local exhibition’s decision to reject a painting done by Wassily Kandinsky. The piece was called ‘The Last Judgement’. The name Expressionism has been attributed to an art historian from Czech called Antonin Matejceck. He first used it in 1910 as an antonym of Impressionism.

Concepts and Styles

Members of The Bridge were inspired by artists like Ensor, Munch, and Van Gogh in their conveyance of raw feelings towards contemporary issues. They would use provocative scenes characterised by prostitutes and dancers in night clubs and city streets to show the moral rot in the society. The Blue Riders were inclined towards spiritual allusion, abstraction and symbolism.

French artists also adopted and influenced Expressionism. Georges Rouault is famous for his form distortion from Fauvism and use of vivid colours. Marc Chagall drew his inspiration from Symbolism, Fauvism, and Cubism and he created his own form of art which later influenced surrealists and other expressionists.

In Austria, Artists who drew their inspiration from Expressionism such as Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka interpreted the art individually and personalized it in their various works. Both of the artists had works revolving around psychological and erotic themes. They also used vivid colours, form distortion, and sinous lines to express their feelings concerning the human body.

Later Developments

The art of Expressionism evolved with time and as some artists rejected it, others sought to expand it. For example, Kandisky took up water colours and non-objective painting. The art later took a new direction after the First World War. The New Objectivity movement began in 1918 with its artistic members seeking to have less sentiments.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Expressionism was revived in Germany and in the 1980’s, the modern version of Expressionism called Neo-Expressionism was adopted globally. New York City’s Julian Schnabel used thick paint layers, gestural brushwork, and unnatural palettes of colour in his works due with his inspiration coming from earlier Expressionism.


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