Before the formation of the German Empire in 1871, Germany consisted of separate states bringing about isolated schools of artistic thought which still existed at the turn of the century. Even with ruler Wilhelm and painter Max Klinger, no movement began. The artistic environment was dominated by establishment art for the glorification of the monarchy. Then came World War I.1

"Comparison of Wilhelm Leibl or Hans von Marees, however much we may admire them, with Courbet or Manet, illustrates how difficult if not impossible it is for a German to produce ‘pure’ art. The harmonious equilibrium of form and content, ideally achieved in a ‘pure’ picture, is all too easily upset by the weight of philosophical concepts, by idealism or Romanticism. This fundamental trait of the German character was to be the mainspring of Expressionism, too; but here the expression was to determine the form, and no longer be obliged to appear in the guise of nymphs, heroes and allegories. The process whereby the colors and forms themselves became the repositories of the pictorial idea was carried to its logical conclusion in abstract art."1

Influence of Impressionism and Post Impressionism

Liebermann, Corinth and Slevogt went to France during the development of Impressionism but did not really encounter it. They studied in galleries and academies, and were attracted to the Barbizon School and Dutch landscapes of Jongkind and Israels. German artists were not exposed to the new movement until the Impressionist exhibits in Berlin, Munich and Dresden in early 20th century which ran concurrently with those of the French reaction to Impressionism: exhibitions of Seurat, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Toulouse-Lautrec. Post Impressionism had a greater influence, notably Van Gogh.

"His capacity for experience grew to ecstatic heights, and his experiences were given visual form in flame-like lines and brilliant, radiant colors. He involved himself deeply with objects he painted, and thus destroyed the protective barriers between himself and the world around him. His suicide in a moment of mental clarity, amid fearful sensations of menace, was a necessary conclusion: the writing on the wall for the young artists to read at the beginning of their path."1

Emil Nolde and Pechstein followed Gauguin’s use of primitive life in the Pacific islands as subject.

Origin of the word ‘Expressionism’

Wide variety of sources. One is when Julien-Auguste Herve designated an exhibit of nature studies of an academic-realistic style at the Salon des Independants in Paris in 1901 as expressionnisme. Or from critic Louis Vauxcelles who described Matisse’s pictures as ‘Expressionist’. Or at a hanging committee of the Berlin Secession when the dealer Paul Cassirer called a Pechstein painting Expressionism when asked if it is Impressionism.

In the 22nd Berlin Secession exhibition the preface of the catalogue held in April 11 the word was used to describe the French artists Braque, Derain, Friesz, Picasso, Vlaminck, Marquet and Dufy. It was then again used to describe the French artists represented at the June 11 exhibit of the Sonderbund (‘Special League’) in Dusseldorf. Other references to Expressionist being used to describe French artists. In an article by Paul Ferdinand Schmidt ‘Uber Expressionisten’ in Rheinlande, the term was used to describe German and French artists.

Use of the word became more vague and the artists had no allegiance to it. It was used by the Kunstsalon Cohen in Bonn in the summer of 13 as they titled their exhibition “Rheinische Expressionisten” which included Campendonk, August and Helmut Macke, HeinrichNauen and Max Ernst, most shown in the Sonderbund ex in Cologne in 1912. Paul Fechter in Munich 14 used the term to compare the I countermovement of Expressionism in Germany to Cubism in France to Futurism in Italy. It was Germany’s avant-garde new art.

A quote from Karl Schmidt-Rottluff in Kunst und Kunstler in 1914,

"I know of no ‘new programme’….Only that art is forever manifesting itself in new forms, since there are forever new personalities – its essence can never alter, I believe. Perhaps I am wrong. But speaking for myself, I know that I have no programme, only the unaccountable longing to grasp what I see and fell, and to find the purest means of expression for it." 1

In Der Blaue Reiter, Munich 12, Marc wrote,

"In this age of the great struggle for the new art, we are fighting as ‘wild beasts’, unorganized levies against an old, organized pwer. The battle seems unequal; but in matters of the spirit it is never the number but the strength of the ideas that conquers. The dreaded weapons of the ‘wild beasts’ are their new ideas;: these kill more effectively than steel and break what was thought to be unbreakable. Who are the ‘wild beasts’ in Germany? A large porportion of them are well known and have been much abused: the Brucke in Dresden, the Neue Sezession in Berlin and the Neue Vereinigung in Munich."

It is impossible to try and explain the latest works of these ‘wild beasts’ as a formal development and re-interpretation of Impressionism. The most beautiful prismatic colors, and the famous Cubism, have both lost their meaning as the goal of these ‘wild beasts.’ Their thought has produced another goal: the creation, through their work, of symbols for their age, which belong on the altars of the coming religion of the spirit, and behind which the technical creator disappears from sight. 1

German Expressionism opposed the rationalism of the early 20th century.


In Berlin, Max Liebermann led a group to participate in the Paris International Exhibition. In February the Vereinigung der Elf,  Alliance of Eleven was founded by Max, Walter Leistikow, Ludwig von Hoffmann and Franz Skarbina.

The Verein Bildender Kunstler, Society of Fine Artists had invited Munch (Norwegian) to hang 50 paintings, which he did before the exhibition was canceled after a vote proposed by Anton von Werner, 120 to 105. The Berlin Secession was talked about from then on.


In Munich, Fritz von Uhde, Hugo von Habermann and Franz von Stuck founded Gegenverein zur Kunstlergenossenschaft, Society Against the Association of Artists, the Munich Secession.


The Dresden Secession founded by Gotthardt Kuhl. Annual exhibitions.


Vienna Secession founded by Klimt with a periodical, Ver scrum


A picture by Leistikow was refused at an exhibition at Lehrte railway station. The “Eleven” was expanded and the Berlin Secession began with Liebermann as president.

The Munich Secession was struggling. Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth join Libermann in Berlin.
Munich schools progress: Neo-Dachau group and Scholle (“Clod) group. These were the origins of Jugendstil, a German version of Art Nouveau.
Artistic settlements began in Worpswede and Goppeln (near Dresden). The landscape painting being done in Goppeln attracted Kirchner and Pechstein in the early 00’s.


Phalanx Group founded, Munich:  Kandinsky was president in 02.


Karl Ernst Osthaus at the age of 24 invests a lot of money and builds a museum: Folkwang (Folkhall) in Hagen, Westphalia.


Phalanx, Munich, led by Kandinsky, an exhibition of Belgian and French PI in Dec. including Signac, Toulouse-Lautrec, Vallotton, Van Rysselberghe, Van Gogh



The Bridge, forms in Dresden.

Four students of architecture: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Gritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel (1883-1970) and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976). Oldest 25, youngest 21. No experience with painting. K and Bleyl were lodged at the Technische Hochschule since 01, met 02. Bleyl went on to a career in arch. Heckel and S-R met in nearby Chemnitz at a literary society as schoolboys. Heckel went to Dresden in 04 and later S-R followed but only studied arch for 2 semesters. Their teacher, Fritz Schumacher had a reformed method of teaching freehand drawing. (p 241) Kirchner and Bleyl had final exams in 05 and with S-R and Heckel they devoted themselves to painting.

They visited Gemaldegalarie for paintings and Kupferstichkabinett for prints. They saw Lautrec lithographs, Frederick Augustus II engravings, Cranach, Beham, Durer, early Italian masters, drawings and etchings of Hercules Segtiers and Rembrandt, and Palau islands carvings in the Ethnographosches Museum. This was during the same time Matisse was buying Negro sculptures and showing them to Picasso who was into Iberian art. See also The Gallery Arnold, Sachsischer Kunstuerein, Kunstssalon Richter and the Vienna Secession Exhibitions from 05-08.

Models reminisent of New Guinea Tribal wood carving. “Freshness and naivety of their sensations, the strength and honesty of their visions.” Proclaimed a kinship with 16th century German art. Favored the woodcut which was also being done by Valloton, Gauguin, Munch and Nicholson.

“The titles of pictures avoid reference to names or personal attributes, even in the case of portraits, and relate to circumstances instead. Individual subordinate to general”1

Heckel was the mediator and the organizer of affairs. He found their first studio in a butcher’s and a shoemaker’s premises. Organized their first joint exhibition in Seifert’s lamp factory in Dresden. Represented the group as their business manager.

S-R hit on the name for the group and established the contact with Nolde. Introduced the group to lithography in 1906.


Pechstein (1881-1955) and Nolde join Der Brucke. Cuno Amiet (Swiss) and Axel Gallen-Kallela join for awhile. For 12 marks anyone could join as a passive member and receive annual letter and prints called Brucke Mappen. They split town in the summers.


Franz Nolken (born Hamburg 1884) with Der Brucke for a short while. Then he left for Paris to study with Matisse. Van Dongen and Bleyl exhibit together.


January, Die Neue Kunstleruereinigung, The New Artists Alliance forms in Munich. With the purpose to ‘organize art exhibitions in Germany and abroad, and of reinforcing their effect by lectures, publications and similar means.’ Members: Jawlensky, Werefkin, Kandinsky (pres), Munter, Kanoldt and Erbsloh. By the end of the year six more had joined including a dancer. In 1910 two Frenchmen join. Alfred Kubin took part in exhibitions as a guest. They had an exhibit in 1909 and 1910 at the Thannhauser gallery and then toured several German towns. Both exhibitions met with repudiation on tour. Got the attention of August Macke and Franz Marc who were also in Munich.

See the Sonderbund exhibitions from 1909-1913. Sonderbund Westdeuscher Kunstfreunde und Kunstler (Special League of Art Lovers and Artists in West Germany). Osthaus was the first president. Dissolved in 1913.


Beckmann elected to the committee of the Berlin Secession. Nolde calls on Liebermann to resign as president. Nolde is expelled. 27 artists rejected for annual exhibition including Otto Mueller, Nolde, and Pechstein. They held their own exhibition: Neue Secession Founded by 15 artists, includes der Brucke and Rohlfs.

Otto Mueller joins Der Brucke.

The second New Artist Alliance exhibit. Includes Braque, Picasso, Rouault, Derain, Vlaminck, Van Dongen among others including sculptors.

Mr. Walden founded Der Sturm, weekly soon selling 30,000 copies. He promoted Kokoschka and later Der Brucke.


Bohumil Kubista (from Prague) joins Der Brucke. Kirchner and Pech create MUIM Institute (Modern Instruction in Painting), failure. The Brucke artists move to Berlin that Autumn and take over Mueller’s studio in Mommsenstrasse. Summers spent in various places on the Baltic.

Munich: Franz Marc joins but The New Artist’s Alliance, is crumbling already. Kandinsky resigns as president, succeeded by Erbsloh. In December one of Kand’s paintings is rejected by the jury. Kand, Munter and Marc leave. The 3rd exhibit is held. Only Jawl and Were’s friendship with Erbsloh keeps them in.

Hold 4th Neue Secession, Berlin.


Dec 18th: Kandinsky, Marc and Munter exhibit at the Thannhauser Gallery, Munich as the Editors of The Blue Rider. This ran concurrently with the New Artist’s Alliance exhibition. Marc wrote to Macke “We are staunch and true and in rather a champagne mood.” Other members: Heinrich Campendonk. The Almanac was an anthology of essays on art and music edited by Kandinsky and Marc. Never a coherent style or organization. It was a haphazard exhibtion with 43 works including Henri Rousseau, Albert Bloch, the Bruljuk brothers, Campendonk, Macke, and Delaunay. The exhibit showed until Jan 3rd and then toured Germany. Opened in Berlin in March at the first Sturm exhibition. Other works there: Klee, Kubin, Jawl, Were. 


Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne of International Art. Heckel and Kirchner commissioned to paint interior of a chapel for this occasion.

The members of Der Brucke begin to go their separate ways. To counter act this they withdraw from the Neue Secession. Pechstein leaves the Brucke and joins the old Berlin Secession. Kirchner publishes Chronik deer Kunstlergruppe Brucke. Heckel, S-R and Mueller did not agree with what was written or with the concept of a ‘programme’ in general. The Neue Secession falls apart and the remaining members turn to Walden the art dealer.

The New Artists Alliance published Das Neue Bild with text by Otto Fischer. Bechtejeff, Jawlensky and Werefkin protest the content and leave December 12 which ends the group.

The Blue Rider 1st exhibition touring Germany (see 1911) and they held their 2nd and last in March and April of 1912 in Hans Goltz’s art gallery in Munich. Only graphic works including all the artists from the first exhibition and: Braque, Derain, Picasso, Vlaminck, der Brucke, Hans Arp, Klee, Kubin, Kasimir, Malevich. The Almanac Der Blaue Reiter was published May 12.

The first exhibit at Walden’s new Gallery Strum in Berlin: The 1st Blue Rider exhibition (see Thannhauser’s Gallery in 1911) was displayed along with Klee, Kubin, Jawlensky and Werefkin, and Kokoschka. He handled the Futurists 2nd exhibition. The exhibitions changed every month. Thousands of visitors a day. Held 100 exhibitions by 1921.


May: Printed announcement of the breakup to passive members of Der Brucke.
Der Brucke members exhibit at the old Berlin Secession. The Berlin Secesion breaks up for the last time. The majority of the members reform as Freie (Free) Secession.


Free Secession holds 1st exhibition. Cassirer (art dealer) bought paintings to exhibit to stay ahead of Walden’s Herbstsalon.


Novembergruppe, Berlin:  Cofounded by Pechstein.
Berliner Arbeitsrat fur Kunst (Berlin Worker’s Soviet for Art):  Formed in 1918, gone by 1921.


Bauhaus school of design opened in Weimer by Walter Gropius.
Das junge Rheinland (Young Rheinland) started in Dusseldorf. Otto Dix one of the members


"No force left in the expressionist ideal of integration."1
Dada Manifesto of 1918: "Expressionism… no longer has anything to do with the efforts made by active people."
In the early 20’s: all about a New Objectivity – Expressionism is dead.


1)  The Expressionists. Wolf-Dieter Dube, trans by Mary Whittall. Thames and Hudson 1972.
2)  The Royal Academy of Art. Derain to Kandinsky: Masters of Colour. London, 2000.