Die Brucke: The
Kirchner / Schmidt‐
Die Brucke What is it?
• Most of Die Brücke were untrained in art, but the
harsh colours and distorted shapes in their work
successfully expressed their strong feelings and vivid
• The group moved to Berlin in
1910 and disbanded in
controversy in 1913.
Die Brucke What is it?
• Group of German expressionists, founded in Dresden 1905,
whose work marked the beginning of modern art in Germany.
• Name indicated their faith in the Art of the Future –which they
saw their own work was to serve as a bridge towards.
• The principal members were the architectural student Ernst
Ludwig Kirchner, in whose studio they regularly gathered, and
his friends Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt‐Rottluff, and, later, Emil
Nolde and Max Pechstein.
• Rejecting academic tradition, realism, and impressionism, they
drew inspiration from German medieval and Renaissance art,
Art Nouveau, Primitive art, and the French Post‐impressionists
Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the Fauvists’.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880‐1938)
• In 1905, he formed Die Brücke group along with
fellow architecture students. He was a young man
with a strong sense of a mission.
• Kirchner was considered the group's leader and he
recruited Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde to join the
movement in 1906.
• Kirchner who introduced the group to Primitivism.
• During World War I, Kirchner struggled with
alcoholism and he was discharged from the army in
• Over the next few years, he was in and out of
institutions. His chronic insomnia led to
dependence on drugs and alcohol which intensified
his severe emotional and physiological problems.
Erich Heckel and
Black crayon on
Kirchner Three bathers 1913
Kirchner, Woman with a Japanese
Kirchner Bathers at Moritzburg 1909
Two Nudes, 1907
Nudes in Landscape
• By painting nudes, especially in the open air, Kirchner was trying
to approach his ideal of a life that was free from the bourgeois
moral inhibitions and in harmony with nature similar to
Gauguin's work from the South Pacific.
• This idea also ties into Kirchner’s interest in Nietzche’s ideas
about an original and pristine Being, uncorrupted by civilisation.
• At this time in Germany there had also been a sort of nudist cult
(1890s) which was anti‐bourgeois, anti‐urban, and tied to the
nationalistic German youth movement (post‐1904) and Dresden
had 11 established areas practicing.
• The brushwork has an air of freedom about it and the colours are
carried throughout the work from the way the bodies are painted
to the way that nature is painted Kirchner is trying to show a
close relationship between man and nature.
Changes in Subject Matter
In 1911 Kirchner moves to Berlin
and turn his attention to life in the
city as one of his major artistic
themes. Some subject matter
• city scenes
• the circus
The circus, held an affinity for
Kirchner, he felt that the
performers were no different that
artists, selling their souls to win
the favour and money of the
bourgeois. It was felt by Die
Brucke artists that the circus and
danse halls expressed the
vibrancy and dynamism of life
within the restrictions of the city.
Kirchener, Bareback Rider, 1912
Kirchner, Five women in the street, Kirchner, Street, Berlin, 1913. Oil on
1913. Oil on canvas. canvas
The City and the Streets
• Kirchner’s move to Berlin had an enormous impact on the artist, his work become
much more psychologically driven and his art is an outlet for this. This is reinforced by
Freud’s ideas that “Art is a conventionally accepted reality in which, thanks to artistic
illusion, symbols and substitutes are able to provoke real emotions…”
• Kirchner had a love-hate relationship with the city. On one hand he wanted to shake
the German bourgeoisie (who had become ‘fattened’ by the industry revolution of the
1870s) and present them with the realities of the city ie. prostitution, motor vehicles,
hustle and bustle. On the other hand he wanted to celebrate the efforts and energy of
those exploited by the bourgeoisie.
• His street scenes show much more angularity that before (influence of Gothic art,
woodcut prints, and Grunewald’s style) along with a new colour palette that abandons
the Fauvist vibrancy in place of a darker palette.
• Sickly colour used to show the sickness that the city imbues. The prostitues’ high
fashion is embellished, the feathers reminiscent of birds-of-prey.
• The modern city is shown with each work (use of the automobile as a symbol of
• The women seem to have an air of aloofness and attitude of disinterest, which was is
was an allusion of the laws of the time that banned prostitution.
Kirchner, The Drinker (self-portrait), 1915. Oil on canvas.
Subject: a self‐portrait of the artist after he had been called up to military duty, and after
he suffered his nervous breakdown. He paints the metropolitan psyche here as a lost
soul in a state of regression or devolution.
Context: Germany in the years during and surrounding WWI was not a place of joyful and
frivolous atmosphere. Kirchner, anxious to be inducted, drown his worries in absinthe
(about a litre a day), the glass seen on the table.
• The artist/drinker is confronted by his own limitations “The heaviest burden of all is the
pressur of the war and the increasing superficiality.”
Style: Curves are eliminated by sharply acute angles and slashing diagonal lines.
• An edgy, congested scene that puts you on emotional edge. The space splinters, zigzags,
and implodes on the individual.
• Exaggerated use of colour, contrasts red and blue tones.
Iconography: the glass of absinthe as a sign of his self‐destruction, heightened by the evil
• The face is mask like; the body almost disappears under the coat, and the scarf wraps
itself around his neck in a menacing way. The figure seems to suffer inertia, incapable
Self-Portrait as Soldier
• Similar to The Drinker, Kirchner shows a tormented
artists/individual who is incapable of dealing with the world that
has been forced upon him.
• He paints himself in uniform, symbolic of his service in the war,
the severed hand is thought to be significant of his inability to
approach his art, the naked woman whom he has his back
turned, which alludes to the former life that he once embraced.
• Kirchner said, “I stagger to work but all my work is in vain and
the mediocre is tearing everything down in its onslaught. I’m
now like the whores I used to paint. Washed out…I keep on
trying to get some order in my thoughts and to create a picture
of the age out of the confusion, which is after all my function.”
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner,
Peter Schlemihl: Conflict, Head of a Sick Man (Self-
1915, Woodcut. portrait),1918, woodcut,
What was special about the Die Brucke
• Die Brucke revised the German tradition of woodcut
as a major art form.
• Indeed the difference between the woodcuts of the
Die Brucke artists and those of artists in other
countries was that their revival in Germany
contributed to the character of painting and
• Kirchner wrote, “Making woodcuts, which I’d learnt
from my father, helped me to simpler, stable forms.”
Style, Form, and Technique
• Woodcutting style is graphic.
• They are clearly outlined, striking, and sharp.
• Well delineated and clearly and vividly
• Strong contrast of black and white.
Head of a Sick Man (Self‐portrait)
• This self‐portrait is a powerful record of his external decline
and emotional state as it was executed Head of a Sick Man,
in the sanatorium at Kreuzlingen in 1918.
• Delicate hatching, with short lines placed closely together,
make the narrow face with its high forehead, deep‐set eyes
and sunken cheeks appear frozen in the picture plane.
• The sheer number of the small cuts also introduces an
element of nervous agitation.
Erich Heckel (1883-1970).
• Founding member of the Dresden based movement in
1905. His early work was strongly influenced by Van Gogh
with violent use of impasto and predominant colour of red,
green, and blue.
• He was the most pragmatic character of the group who
took over the management and intensively engaged himself
in the organisational duties within Die Brucke.
• Heckel produced his first woodcut in 1904 and
subsequently went on to make over 460 woodcuts.
• Like the other “Brücke” painters he searched for nature as
untouched as possible by civilization and spent the
summers of 1907 and 1908 at the North Sea coast in
Dangast and of 1909 and 1910 at the Moritzburger Lakes
• Like Kirchner, he too joined the war and created a number
of sketches and drawings of his experiences.
• In 1937, The Nazis deemed his art quot;Degenerate.quot; 729
works were expelled from German museums. In January
1944, his studio was bombed and all of his blocks and
plates were destroyed.
Erich Heckel, Crouching
woman, (1914), 71 x
56cm, woodcut. Heckel, Junges mädchen /
Young Woman, (no date)
Kopf / Head of a Woman.
Original woodcut, 1915.
Heckel Fränzi Reclining
Heckel, Like the
he searched for
work was done
while he still
lived in Dresden
and shows the
of Van Gogh’s
Erich Heckel, Brickworks, 1907, Oil on canvas.
Erich Heckel, Two Men at the Table, 1912, Oil on canvas.
Two Men at the Table
• Demonstrates Heckel’s strong human
sympathies, subject matter is not social or
political but personal.
• It is believed to be a scene from Dostoyevsky’s
The Idiot, but was not intended to be a textual
Erich Heckel, Portrait of a Man, 1919, woodcut print.
Erich Heckel, A Glassy Day, 1913, Oil on Canvas
A Glassy Day
• Done right near the end of Die Brucke, his paintings began to
change, colour isn’t being used as a means of expression,
rather the stiff, fragmented / shattered form invokes a sense
• Presents a form that is stiff and generalised in the style of
• Facetting of Cezanne and multiple perspectives of analytic
Cubism an essential element of the work. There may also be
some influence of the Italian Futurists who had their first
Berlin exhibition in 1912.
• The work seems to fuse together the sky, the earth, the
water and the man in one single experience. This is done
through the use of blue, which is carried throughout the art
Karl Schmidt‐Rotluff (1884‐1976)
• Like Heckel, his work was heavily inspired
by Van Gogh; his canvases are often heavy
reds and blues.
• Introspective man who preferred painting
landscapes to people.
• Excelled in the woodcut. Its harsh
contrasts of black and white suited his
uncompromising and austere personality.
Emphasizes connectivity of humanity and nature
Karl Scmidt-Rotluff, Summer, 1913, Oil on
• Loose, often aggressive brushwork, which can be seen in the
simplified landscape that the figures are a part of.
• The flatness of the figures and the outlining of the surrounding
landscape reminiscent of the Fauves.
• Freedom in use of un‐naturalistic colours that are broken up by
the lines throughout.
• The nudes and nature are fused together by the use and radiance
of the red.
Russische Landschaft mit Kreuzweg, 1919
Russian Landscape with Crossing Roads
Woodcut, 39x49 cm, (seventh work of 1919).
Schmidt-Rottluff, Christ and Judas
After the war, Schmidt-Rottluff did a
series of woodcuts with that
depicted the life of Christ. He
became interested in transcendental
reality as a means to come to terms Schmidt-Rottluff, Nine
with what he had seen during the Woodcuts, Apostle(1918)
Emil Nolde (1867‐1956)
• He joined Die Brucke in 1906 brought a special, mystical
dimension to the German Expressionist group that was
later to be taken up by Der Blaue Rieter.
• His career illustrates a number of the moral dilemmas
which faced German Modernists of the first generation,
since his instincts were nationalist and conservative even
though his art was regarded as experimental.
• In his youth Nolde read the Bible a great deal ‐ its images
were to return to him later in life.
• His time with Die Brucke was short‐lived due to Nolde’s
concern with the group’s artistic pursuits.
Emil Nolde, Dance Around the Golden Calf, 1910, Oil on canvas
Nolde attempts to revive
treatments of new
In 1909 he tried to form a
new group of young
artists as he felt that Die
Brucke had failed to
become an alliance of
good young artists. His
endeavour proved to be a
failure and Nolde and his
art work almost fell into
Emil Nolde, Crucifixion, 1912, Oil on
The Prophet, woodcut (1912)
Emil Nolde Madonna, 1906
Emil Nolde, Child and Large Bird,
1912, Oil on canvas
Emil Nolde, Excited People,
1913, Oil on canvas
Characterised by the following stylistic features:
• Artistic composition is done in very simple terms and refrains from
• Nolde’s attitude to his work similar to Van Gogh’s in his interest in
passionate emotions and he had a respectful interest in primitive
arts and was widely travelled after his time with Die Brucke.
• Used the Bible as a source of inspiration throughout his career.
Nolde’s Artistic Exchange
• Although Nolde only worked with Die Brucke for a short period he
brought to the group a style of painting that was much simpler,
bolder, and almost more colourful.
• What he took away was the use of the woodcut and the lithograph
as art processes.
Henri Matisse, Luxe, calm et volupte, Karl Scmidt-Rotluff, Summer,
1904, Oil on canvas, 1913, Oil on canvas.
QUESTION EIGHT: FAUVISM AND EXPRESSIONISM
(i) Identify the stylistic differences between these two paintings.
(ii) Account for the differences between the two paintings by relating them to the
differences between Fauvism and Die Brucke.
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