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Amid the destruction of World War I, German and Austrian Expressionists responded to the anxiety of modern life.

Expressionism and City Life

Through their art, German and Austrian Expressionists expressed their conflicted views of urban life.

Expressionist Portraits

Expressionist portraits reveal more than just what people look like.

Expressionism and Nature

For the German Expressionists, nature was an arena for healing and freedom.

Expressionist Depictions of War

German Expressionists, many of whom fought in World War I, depicted the shattering experience of war.

For Expressionist artists, nature represented a healing escape from the crowds and anxiety of the city. Jarring colors and harsh angles take a backstage to blues, greens, and earthy colors. In nature, artists and their subjects could shed their inhibitions (as well as their clothes) and celebrate the freedom of mind and body.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

Encompasses varying stylistic approaches that emphasize intense personal expression. Renouncing the stiff bourgeois social values that prevailed at the turn of the 20th century, and rejecting the traditions of the state-sponsored art academies, Expressionist artists turned to boldly simplified or distorted forms and exaggerated, sometimes clashing colors. As Expressionism evolved from the beginning of the 20th century through the early 1920s, its crucial themes and genres reflected deeply humanistic concerns and an ambivalent attitude toward modernity, eventually confronting the devastating experience of World War I and its aftermath.


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Questions & Activities

  1. Horsepower

    Franz Marc identified horses as a powerful symbol of nature in his work. Do you identify a specific animal with nature and freedom?

    Draw a picture or make a photo or a print of the animal. Why did you choose this animal to symbolize nature and freedom?

  2. Linear Thinking

    The thick, bold lines in woodcut prints create images with impact.

    Sketch one of the woodcut prints here.

    Reflect. What kind of lines did you draw? What do the lines suggest about the activity of making the print?

  3. Impress/Express

    Consider. Pick one of the works of art discussed on this page, and list five words that describe what it looks like.

    Expressionists rebelled against the Impressionist tendency to “record” what the artist saw in nature, and instead tried to visualize the effects of what they saw.

    Compare. List five words that describe the work of art’s effect. Compare the two lists. Are they completely different?