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German Expressionist Printmaking in 20th Century, Modern & Contemporary Fine Art

Exploring emotion through the use of bold color and simplified forms, Expressionism developed in Germany in the early part of the 20th century with the formation of the artistic group called Die Brucke in 1905. The objective of the Die Brucke artists was to break free from bourgeois social values in a provocative way through the distortion and exaggeration of figures, features and expressions. Members of Die Brucke included Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirschner, and Max Pechstein.

Max Pechstein was a leading member of Die Brucke and worked extensively with the medium of printmaking. The techniques of woodcut and etching lent themselves particularly well to the tenets of German Expressionism. The bold, flat simplicity of a woodcut was conceptually akin to the philosophy of the artists, allowing them to explore the Expressionist agenda of simplicity, provocation and emotional reaction. Pechstein’s interest in non-Western art, like that of other Die Brucke artists, led him to travel in the Pacific where he painted nudes and landscapes in a deliberately primitive manner. His use of bold color and expressive form was central to the development of Expressionism and can be clearly see in his woodcut titled Dialogue, from 1920. In the early 1930s, the Nazis called Pechstein’s work “degenerate”, forcing him to resign from his teaching position at the Berlin Academy and banning him form working or exhibiting in Germany. After the war, Pechstein resumed both painting and printmaking, but it is his early work from the 1920s that receives the most critical attention. 

Following World War I, the German Expressionists explored darker themes and the aftermath of the war. Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Kathe Kollwitz, and George Grosz all continued to work in an Expressionist style between the wars, using their subject matter to protest against poverty and the humanitarian struggles that are at the core of their philosophy.

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