Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Impressionism – Expressionism: Art at a Turning Point: Kirchner, Beckmann, Dix, Macke, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir

With Impressionism – Expressionism: Art at a Turning Point, the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin presents a groundbreaking exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie from 22 May to 20 September 2015, deliberately comparing these two artistic styles for the first time. 

The Nationalgalerie was one of the first museums in the world to acquire Impressionist paintings, beginning in 1896; by 1919, the museum had added an extensive collection of Expressionist works. The comprehensive exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie will trace the similarities and differences between these two art movements, a process of comparison that began just after 1900. Over 160 Impressionist and Expressionist masterpieces from chiefly German and French artists will be on display, assembled from the collections of the Nationalgalerie and other museums around the world. 

The development of Impressionism is associated with artists such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir in France and with painters including Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth, and Max Slevogt in Germany. Works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmitt-Rottluff, Emil Nolde, and Franz Marc epitomize the powerful counter-movement of Expressionism in Germany. 

Occupying the entire middle floor of the Alte Nationalgalerie, the exhibition is arranged according the principle shared motifs of the two movements. The main hall is devoted to the theme of the city; further rooms treat night life in bars, cafes, and restaurants, leisure time spent at the outskirts of the city, as well as themes of family, artists, and art mediators. The motif of the bather opens the exhibition and stands in sharp contrast to the final room with works from 1913 which capture the simmering sense of unease at that time. 

A comprehensive catalogue published by Hirmer Verlag accompanies the exhibition, containing numerous essays and 230 full-colour illustrations. 

No two other styles were as intensely and unsparingly contrasted with one another in their time as Impressionism and Expressionism. Impressionism is inextricably linked with France and with artists such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Auguste Renoir. The German Impressionism of Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth, and Max Slevogt developed in the 1890s as a response to the movement in France. A fierce backlash followed shortly thereafter with the advent of Expressionism, spearheaded by painters such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde, and Franz Marc in Germany. The simultaneous emergence of these two styles provided critics and theorists with an ideal basis to compare the seemingly antithetical cultures of France and Germany. It was gallery owner Herwarth Walden who first spoke of a ‘turning point’ in the transition from Im(pressionism) to Ex(pressionism). 

Despite the stark distinction that would later be drawn between the two styles, Impressionism and early Expressionism share surprisingly many characteristics. Both movements take an anti-academic stance, hold painting en plein air in high regard, portray immediate experiences of light and colour, and focus on the material details of the artists’ surroundings. In addition, subjectivity and the individual character of each artist’s brushwork were highly prized among exponents of both artistic movements. 

The Nationalgalerie is closely tied to the history of artists working in both styles. Through its director, Hugo von Tschudi, the Nationalgalerie was the first museum in the world to acquire Impressionist paintings, beginning in 1896 even before the Paris museums. Tschudi’s successor, Ludwig Justi, on the other hand, amassed a spectacular collection of Expressionist works after 1918 for the new wing of the Nationalgalerie, at the former crown prince’s palace on Unter den Linden. Moreover, Justi developed a ‘School of Seeing’ over many years, which aimed to elucidate the particular characteristics of various artworks by comparing them to one another.


Variations on the theme of the bather in pastoral and idyllic settings have been found since antiquity. Bathing figures became a major motif in the paintings of late Impressionism and Expressionism as well. Paul Cézanne's images of unclothed men or women by the water, were not painted from nature but were carefully conceived and staged in his studio. They became the much-admired ideal for artists from both movements. The naked bodies which no longer met ideals of beauty, the absence of a mythological overlay and the reduction of shapes and spatial relationships all had a provocative effect. They inspired Cézanne’s contemporaries Pissarro, Degas, and Renoir from the end of the nineteenth century, and later influenced German artists such as Liebermann, Kirchner, and Pechstein. 

The modernist representations of bathers outdoors in nature, at the Moritzburg lakes and on the beaches of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea were based on a dream of a benevolent togetherness, close to nature and far from the stifling rules of the bourgeois world. Other painters looked for true ‘primitiveness’ in the South Seas, among the natives of Tahiti or Papua New Guinea. At the same time, however, the artists’ representations of people bathing, resting, or drying themselves also celebrate the pure joy of living and the appeal of nudity.

Bathers. Dreams of Paradise 

Paul Cézanne
Sieben Badende (Sept baigneurs), um 1900
Seven Bathers, circa 1900
Öl auf Leinwand, 38 x 46 cm
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Sammlung Beyeler

Paul Gauguin
Tahitianische Fischerinnen (Pêcheuses tahitiennes), 1891
Tahitian Fisherwomen, 1891
Öl auf Leinwand, 71 x 90 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Dauerleihgabe der Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Badende am Strand (Fehmarn), 1913
Bathers at the Shore (Fehmarn), 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 76 x 100 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

Max Liebermann
Badende Knaben, 1902
Bathing Boys, 1902
Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 88,5 cm Föhr, Museum Kunst der Westküste

Otto Mueller
Das Urteil des Paris, 1910/11
The Judgement of Paris, 1910/11
Leimfarbe auf Rupfen, 179 × 124,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin 


Emil Nolde
Papua-Jünglinge, 1914
Papuan Youths, 1914
Öl auf Leinwand, 70 x 103,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Max Pechstein
Sitzendes Mädchen (Moritzburg), 1910
Seated Girl (Moritzburg), 1910
Öl auf Leinwand, 80 x 70 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Badende mit blondem, offenem Haar (Baigneuse blonde aux cheveux dénoués), um 1903
Bather with Loose Blonde Hair, circa 1903
Öl auf Leinwand, 92,7 x 73,4 cm

Wien, Belvedere

City, Suburb, Pedestrians 

Impressionism and Expressionism are urban cultures. Artists from both movements discovered the beauty of the growing metropolises for themselves: from the 1860s, Claude Monet and his fellow Impressionists were inspired by Paris, while from 1900, the Expressionists focused mainly on Berlin. Both cities were a source of artistic innovations in their time. 

Rapidly changing cities with their increasingly busy streets, glittering lights, broad boulevards, and bustling squares became a key motif for artists. In 1863, Charles Baudelaire described a painter wandering through the city as a flâneur: ‘He is looking for that something which you must permit me to call modernity.’ That ‘something’ also included darting pedestrians and cocottes in the city at night, the new means of transport and electric lights. Cityscapes seen by rain, fog or snow helped artists including Camille Pissarro and Lesser Ury, as well as Max Beckmann and Otto Dix, to make a variety of artistic discoveries. The artists’ subjective sensibilities, which were a product of their respective time, are captured in these images. 

The motif of the bridge crops up surprisingly often, including both traditional bridges over rivers and the new railway bridges. Frequently, it is precisely these pictures that testify to a poetic treatment of the cityscape, by means of reflections in the water and the depiction of space in atmospheric tones. 

Max Beckmann
Straße bei Nacht, 1913
Street at Night, 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 90 x 70 cm Privatbesitz

Gustave Caillebotte
Trocknende Wäsche am Ufer der Seine (Linge séchant au bord de la Seine, Petit Gennevilliers), um 1892
Laundry Drying on the Bank of the Seine, circa 1892
Öl auf Leinwand, 105,5 x 150,5 cm

Köln, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Leihgabe Kuratorium und Förderergesellschaft Wallraf-Richartz- Museum/Museum Ludwig e.V. 

Otto Dix
Straßenlaternen, 1913
Street Lamps, 1913
Öl auf Papier auf Spanplatte, 51,3 x 62,9 cm Dauerleihgabe der Otto Dix Stiftung Vaduz in der Kunstsammlung Gera

Erich Heckel
Landschaft bei Dresden, 1910
Landscape near Dresden, 1910
Öl auf Leinwand, 66,5 x 78,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Rheinbrücke in Köln, 1914
Rhine River Bridge in Cologne, 1914
Öl auf Leinwand, 120,5 x 91 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Potsdamer Platz, 1914
Potsdamer Platz, 1914
Öl auf Leinwand, 200 x 150 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben mit Unterstützung der Kulturstiftung der Länder, der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, der Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, der Kultur-Stiftung der Deutschen Bank und anderer

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Der Belle-Alliance-Platz Berlin, 1914
Belle-Alliance-Platz, Berlin, 1914
Tempera auf Leinwand, 96 x 85 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Nollendorfplatz, 1912
Nollendorfplatz, 1912
Öl auf Leinwand, 69 x 60 cm Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin

Claude Monet
St. Germain l'Auxerrois, 1867
St. Germain l’Auxerrois, 1867
Öl auf Leinwand, 79 x 98 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Claude Monet
Charing Cross Bridge, 1899
Charing Cross Bridge, 1899
Öl auf Leinwand, 64,8 x 80,6 cm
Madrid, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, on loan at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Camille Pissarro
Der Boulevard Montmartre an einem Wintermorgen (Le Boulevard Montmartre, matin d’hiver), 1897
The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning, 1897
Öl auf Leinwand, 64,8 x 81,3 cm

NY, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of S. Vietor, in loving memory of Ernest G. Vietor, 1960

Camille Pissarro
Boulevard Montmartre bei Nacht (Boulevard Montmartre de nuit), 1897
Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897
Öl auf Leinwand, 53,3 x 64,8 cm
London, The National Gallery, Bought Courtauld Fund, 1925

Camille Pissarro
Le Pont Neuf, 1902
The Pont-Neuf, 1902
Öl auf Leinwand, 54,6 x 64,8 cm Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Out of Doors 

The idea and experience of leisure time developed in the nineteenth century as a result of urbanization and industrialization, which entailed a life with fixed working hours. Leisure was seen as the private part of one’s life, and was regarded as a counterweight to the all-consuming world of work. Peace and quiet, amusing diversions and stimulating time spent together with friends and family offered a change of scene and the chance to relax. Recently constructed railways allowed members of the working class and middle class to travel to the city’s outskirts and into the countryside, away from the noise and stench of the metropolis.

The Impressionists and Expressionists also heeded the call of the countryside and sought to redefine their relationship with nature within the context of recreational spaces. Here, even more than in the city, they employed the technique of painting en plein air using tubes of paint invented around 1840, which dried up less quickly and were easy to transport. River banks, meadows, and gardens, public parks, zoos, and lively spots in restaurants along the Seine in Paris or the Alster lake in Hamburg served as the artists’ subjects. Impressionism and Expressionism were the last modern and comprehensive styles to provide an unmediated, realistic view of ordinary people’s everyday lives.

Out of Doors. The Creation of Leisure 

Marie Bracquemond
Die Teestunde (Le Goûter), 1880
Tea Time, 1880
Öl auf Leinwand, 81,5 x 61,5 cm
Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris

Lovis Corinth
Der neue See im Berliner Tiergarten, 1903
Neue See in the Tiergarten, Berlin, 1903
Öl auf Leinwand, 76 x 100,5 cm Kunsthalle Mannheim

Raoul Dufy
Hafen (Le Port), 1908
Harbour, 1908
Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 81 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Erich Heckel
Schlafender Pechstein, 1910
Pechstein, Sleeping, 1910
Öl auf Leinwand, 110 x 74 cm
Buchheim Museum der Phantasie, Bernried am Starnberger See

Erich Heckel
Kanal im Winter, 1913/14
Canal in Winter, 1913/14
Öl auf Leinwand, 70 x 80 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Grüne Dame im Gartencafé, 1912
Woman in Green in Garden Café, 1912
Öl auf Leinwand, 89,5 x 66,5 cm
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein – Westfalen

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Haus unter Bäumen (Fehmarn), 1913
House beneath Trees (Fehmarn), 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 90,5 x 121 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie 

August Macke
Spaziergang in Blumen, 1912
Walk among Flowers, 1912
Öl auf Leinwand, 63,5 x 48,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

August Macke
Sonniger Weg, 1913
Sunny Path, 1913
Öl auf Pappe, 50 x 30 cm
Münster, LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Westfälisches Landesmuseum

Edouard Manet
Beim Père Lathuille, im Freien (Chez le père Lathuille), 1879
At Père Lathuille ́s, 1879
Öl auf Leinwand, 92 x 112 cm
Collection du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tournai, Belgien

Claude Monet
Die Barke in Giverny (En norvégienne), um 1887
In the Rowing Boat at Giverny, circa 1887
Öl auf Leinwand, 97,5 x 130,5 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay, Geschenk der Prinzessin Edmond de Polignac, 1947

Auguste Renoir
Im Sommer (L’Eté), 1868
In the Summer, 1868
Öl auf Leinwand, 85 x 59 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Auguste Renoir
Blühender Kastanienbaum (Le Marronnier en fleurs), 1881
Chestnut Tree in Bloom, 1881
Öl auf Leinwand, 71 x 89 cm

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Maurice de Vlaminck
Die Brücke von Chatou (Le Pont de Chatou), 1907
The Chatou Bridge, 1907
Öl auf Leinwand, 68 x 96 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie 

Villas and Country Homes

The urge to travel to the countryside is as old as the city itself, dating back to antiquity. Representations of villas in the verdant locations can be found in Pliny and Vitruvius, forming the models on which architects and land owners based their country estates as late as the nineteenth century. Most of these homes were surrounded by carefully landscaped gardens and parks and were viewed as places of relaxation and repose. Shielded from the outside world, these estates served as retreats from the hectic bustle of the city, offering their owners not only a chance to connect with nature but also to increase their social standing. 

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the garden became a popular and important motif for the avant-garde due to purely artistic reasons. Representations of gardens were not subject to an established tradition but rather were set in opposition to the generic canons of academic painting. Many artists including Claude Monet, Max Liebermann, Max Slevogt, and Emil Nolde acquired a
garden of their own. These gardens provided with a place to linger and offered the painter an appropriate range of subjects he might study under the most varied light and weather conditions. The phenomenon of the painter’s garden stems from this period. The play of colours itself was easily as important as observing the light and the effect of the atmosphere on the colours.

Max Liebermann
Landhaus in Hilversum, 1901
Country House in Hilversum, 1901
Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 80 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie 

Edouard Manet
Landhaus in Rueil (La Maison à Rueil), 1882
The House at Rueil, 1882
Öl auf Leinwand, 71,5 x 92,3 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie


The variety of establishments found in cities offered numerous options for socializing. Beginning in the 1850s, song and dance interludes offered by restaurants and known as ‘café-concerts’ were especially popular. Such venues supplied the stage for the female clown Cha-U-Kao to perform, for the chanson singer Emélie Bécat to sing risqué songs, and for can-can dancers to flounce their skirts. Vaudeville theatres such as the Moulin Rouge or the dance hall at the Moulin de la Galette in the Montmartre district of Paris also proved attractive. 

Ballets, operas and operettas, cabarets, theatres, fairgrounds, and circuses were part of a firmly established entertainment industry. Conversations over drinks in smoky pubs and restaurants led to fleeting sexual encounters – and lively artistic exchanges. Ludwig Meidner describes the coffeehouse as a preferred location for meetings, diversions, and pleasures. Yet an oppressive undercurrent often permeated this tremendous bustle, which many painters found particularly striking and worthy of representation. 

In 1863, Charles Baudelaire described the artist Constantin Guys, the dégagé flâneur of nighttime Paris, as a ‘painter of modern life’. Kirchner and Nolde recorded their experiences exploring Berlin’s nightlife for inspiration in very similar terms.

Diversions. Cafés, Dancers, and Cabaret Life

Edgar Degas
Tänzerinnen im Probensaal (Danseuses au foyer), 1895/96
Dancers at Rehearsal, 1895/96
Öl auf Leinwand, 70,5 x 100,5 cm Wuppertal, Von der Heydt-Museum

Vincent van Gogh
Le Moulin de la Galette, 1886
Le Moulin de la Galette, 1886
Öl auf Leinwand, 38 x 46,2 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Zwei Tänzerinnen, 1910/11
Two Dancers, 1910/11
Öl auf Leinwand, 64,8 x 59,6 cm
Kochel am See, Franz Marc Museum, Dauerleihgabe aus Privatbesitz

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Varieté (Englisches Tanzpaar), 1910/26
Cabaret; Dancing English Couple, 1910/26
Öl auf Leinwand, 151 x 120 cm Städel-Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Im Cafégarten, 1914
In the Café Garden, 1914
Öl auf Leinwand, 70,5 x 76 cm Berlin, Brücke-Museum 

August Macke
Pierrot, 1913
Pierrot, 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 75 x 90 cm Kunsthalle Bielefeld

Emil Nolde
Tanz II, 1911
Dance II, 1911
Öl auf Leinwand, 104,5 x 61 cm Nolde-Stiftung Seebüll

Max Pechstein
Doppelbildnis, 1910
Double Portrait, 1910
Öl auf Leinwand, 89,5 x 89,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Weinstube, 1913
Wine Bar, 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 76 x 84 cm Berlin, Brücke-Museum

Couples and Relationships 

The traditional roles of men and women shifted alongside the social and economic changes of the nineteenth century. This period gave rise to the concept of the distinct individual. Popular magazines and novels were filled with such themes as marriages of convenience or love, romantic affairs, and personal tragedies. Writers created striking psychological portraits of failed marriages: the era of Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Hedda Gabler commenced in the 1850s. 

French and German Impressionism and early Expressionism originated from similar social conditions. Both movements produced a surprising number of pictures of couples and families, many of which were remarkably large in size. In a deliberate rejection of a Biedermeier-era family idyll, these paintings do not simply reflect reality, but rather show new models for familial roles. They emphasize the specific character of the individual rather than a couple’s togetherness or a family’s sense of belonging. Those painted are often turning or looking in different directions. Manet’s work, for example, is characterized by the vacant gaze of some of his subjects. Thus, in various ways, these pictures reflect the shifting gender dynamic of the late nineteenth century.

Max Beckmann
Unterhaltung, 1908
Conversation, 1908
Öl auf Leinwand, 177 x 168,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

Max Beckmann
Doppelbildnis Max Beckmann und Minna Beckmann-Tube, 1909
Double Portrait of Max Beckmann and Minna Beckmann-Tube, 1909
Öl auf Leinwand, 143,5 x 112 cm
Halle (Saale), Kunstmuseum Moritzburg

Lovis Corinth
Familie Rumpf, 1901
The Family of the Painter Fritz Rumpf, 1901
Öl auf Leinwand, 113 x 140 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Selbstbildnis mit Mädchen, 1914/15
Self-Portrait with Girl, 1914/15
Öl auf Leinwand, 60 x 49 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Skizzierender Künstler mit zwei Frauen / Künstlergruppe, 1913
Artist Sketching with Two Women; Artists, 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 70 x 80 cm Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum 

Edouard Manet
Im Wintergarten (Dans la serre), 1878/79
In the Conservatory, 1878/79 

Franz Marc: Kühe, gelb-rot-grün, 1912. Öl auf Leinwand, 115 x 150 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Auguste Renoir
Der Nachmittag der Kinder in Wargemont (L’Après-midi des enfants à Wargemont), 1884
Children’s Afternoon at Wargemont, 1884
Öl auf Leinwand, 127 x 173 cm

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie


Impressionists and Expressionists alike painted themselves in numerous pair and family portraits. Similarly, the standalone artist self-portrait is a recording of a particular moment. It simultaneously expresses an idealized role and functions as an autobiographical statement. Max Slevogt shows himself as a youthful artist, unconventional and approachable. Lovis Corinth stares critically at his mirror image – he finds himself at a crossroads in his life. Max Liebermann, in contrast, consistently represents himself as self-confident. Here, he depicts himself standing in front of his own paintings, wearing a white painter’s apron over a suit. In his self-portrait, Expressionist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff set himself apart from the ‘superficial’ paintwork of the Impressionists. A monocle glints in one eye, while his other eye is closed. And Ludwig Meidner, who belonged to the group known as the ‘Pathetiker’, looks alert and piercing in his self-portrait.

Portraits of fellow painter friends are less likely to contain this element of scrutiny. Corinth painted Berlin Secession founder Walter Leistikow as the epitome of the ‘en plein air’ painter. August Macke portrayed his friend Franz Marc as a discriminating interpreter of the world, with great empathy for animals and his fellow man. 

Lovis Corinth
Selbstbildnis (Selbstporträt ohne Kragen), 1900
Self-Portrait (without Collar), 1900
Öl auf Leinwand, 73,5 x 60 cm Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin

Lovis Corinth
Der Maler Leistikow, 1900
Portrait of the Painter Walter Leistikow, 1900
Öl auf Leinwand, 60 x 49 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

August Macke
Bildnis Franz Marc, 1910
Portrait of Franz Marc, 1910
Öl auf Karton, 50 x 38 cm\

Art Mediators. Dandies, Connoisseurs, Patrons, and Collectors 

Paul and Bruno Cassirer, Julius Meier-Graefe, Hermann Bahr, Herwarth Walden, Rosa Schapire, and many other art lovers promoted new trends outside the official academic art market in Wilhelmine Germany.

Collectors and dealers, curators and critics made a strong case for Impressionism and Expressionism. Hugo von Tschudi, then the director of the Nationalgalerie, was important for both art movements. He was the first to buy paintings by French Impressionists for a German museum. And, around the same time, the almanac Der Blaue Reiter, edited by the Expressionists Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, was dedicated to him. 

Critics and theorists engaged with both Impressionism and Expressionism, reaching a wide audience through their books, catalogues, articles, and reviews. Many of these art mediators cultivated friendly relationships with the artists they supported, collecting their work and commissioning portraits. The artists’ vivid portraits depict these proponents of Impressionism and Expressionism oscillating between two quite different roles, namely, as the cosmopolitan dandy and the visionary prophet. The portraits record these critics and theorists as intellectual partners on a shared path towards innovation.
Lovis Corinth 

Edvard Munch
Harry Graf Kessler, 1906
Harry Graf Kessler, 1906
Öl auf Leinwand, 200 x 84 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

Emil Nolde
Herr Sch. (Bildnis Gustav Schiefler), 1915
Portrait of Gustav Schiefler, 1915
Öl auf Leinwand, 82,5 x 73 cm Berlin, Brücke-Museum

Still Lifes 

In 1900, it was a firm principle of modern aesthetics that ‘a beet painted well is better than a poorly painted Madonna’, to quote Max Liebermann. The hierarchy of genres was no longer irrefutable – the subject of a painting had become secondary. ‘A bunch of asparagus, a bouquet of roses – these sufficed for a masterpiece’. 

Thanks to Gustave Courbet and the Leibl school in Munich, the still life took on a new significance: It became a place for artistic experimentation. In still lifes, artists addressed painterly questions of composition, colour, and technique. Perspective, light, surfaces, contrasts of colour and shape could be varied and methodically studied even more easily in the controlled environment of the studio than when painting en plein air or when working with a live model. Artists selected familiar items such as apples, flowers, masks, or earthenware based on their forms and colours and positioned these objects in distinctive arrangements. 

The subject itself was less important than the act of painting; the still life became the ‘touchstone’ of the artist (Edouard Manet). 

Impressionism and Expressionism shared this idea, although each movement adapted the still life to its respective style. The Impressionists’ guiding light was Manet, while for the Expressionists it was Paul Cézanne, whom Julius Meier-Graefe dubbed the ‘father of modernism’.

Paul Cézanne
Stillleben mit Blumen und Früchten (Fleurs dans un pot de gingembre et fruits), um 1890 Still Life with Flowers and Fruit, circa 1890 Öl auf Leinwand, 66 x 81,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Alexej von Jawlensky
Stilleben mit Blumen und Früchten, um 1910
Still Life with Flowers and Fruit, circa 1910
Öl auf Pappe, 49,5 x 53,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

Edouard Manet
Der Fliederstrauß (Lilas blanc dans un vase de verre), um 1882
Lilacs in a Glass Vase, circa 1882
Öl auf Leinwand, 54 x 42 cm

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

Behind closed doors 
Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1895 play Intérieur instances the importance and relevance of the concept of the interior, which was experienced and staged as a protected, ‘holy’ alternative to public space. In the early modern industrial age, interior space was more important than ever before for people’s ideas of living and selfhood. Women, from whom the emancipation movement was still far off, were intimately acquainted with the indoor world.
This is why Impressionists and Expressionists alike most often depicted women in their interior scenes: some preferred women engaging in domestic activities and personal tasks, while others mainly showed woman as nudes in a studio. Even models whom the painters knew personally remained largely formal subjects through whom artists might study the relationships between colour and form or between bodies and space. Renoir painted women, in his own words, as ‘beautiful fruit’, and as spatial still lifes. Degas and Kirchner sought to arrest movements that were natural and unfeigned, even commonplace. Fleeting ‘depictions of life’ (Lovis Corinth) were captured in these pictures, painted as if peeping through a ‘keyhole’ (Edgar Degas). Thus the most intimate (and most familiar) moments form the alluring, at times voyeuristic, subjects of both Impressionist and Expressionist interior paintings.

August Macke
Die Frau des Künstlers, 1912
Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, 1912
Öl auf Pappe, 105 x 81 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch das Land Berlin

Berthe Morisot
Der Spiegel (La Psyché), 1876
The Cheval Glass, 1876
Öl auf Leinwand, 64 x 54 cm Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Gabrielle bei der Lektüre (Gabrielle lisant), 1906
Gabrielle, Reading, 1906
Öl auf Leinwand, 55 x 46,5 cm Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle


Given the strictures of bourgeois life, the desire to return to nature as a site of origin factors into the many representations of animals in Impressionism and Expressionism. The naturalness of these creatures appealed to artists. The animal was an unencumbered subject with no associated greater significance and it served as a proving ground for a new definition of art. ‘Intangible ideas express themselves in tangible forms,’ wrote August Macke, ‘made tangible through our senses as a star, as thunder, as a flower’ – or, one might add, as an animal. 

German Impressionists discovered animals wherever they looked – in the countryside, on the racecourse, in the zoo, and in cages – and were inspired by a hitherto underappreciated wealth of colours, shapes, and movements. These artists merged representations of animals with their environments. 

For Franz Marc, the animal was a being with a soul and even became a more general symbol of life. He wanted to paint ‘the animal’s own sense of experience’. From 1913, animals became a means for Marc, Nolde, and Dix to express diffuse yet tangible fears. Curt Herrmann, for example, painted a flamingo, which had recently died in a zoo, as an allegory for the war in 1917.

August Macke
Landschaft mit Kühen und Kamel, 1914
Landscape with Cows and Camel, 1914
Öl auf Leinwand, 47 x 54 cm Kunsthaus Zürich 

Max Liebermann
Reiter am Meer nach links, 1900
Rider on the Beach, Facing Left, 1900
Öl auf Pappe, 70,5 x 49 cm Nationalgalerie Prag 

Franz Marc
Kühe, gelb-rot-grün, 1912
Cows, Yellow/Red/Green, 1912
Öl auf Leinwand, 62 x 87,5 cm
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, München

Premonitions of War. 1913 

Even in the years before the First World War, Wilhelmine empire society was deeply divided, split between bureaucrats, nationalists, and social revolutionaries. Friedrich Nietzsche had critiqued the decline of European culture and morality, questioning his contemporaries’ belief in progress. Anthroposophy, mysticism, socialism, and depth psychology supplied alternative models for explaining society. 

A series of disasters – including the earthquake in Messina in 1908, the appearance of Halley’s comet in 1910, and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 – made an apocalypse feel threateningly close at hand. The second Moroccan crisis in 1911 and the Balkan Wars in 1912/13 fuelled this simmering feeling of unease. This powerless sense that the ‘end of days’ (Georg Heym) had arrived was in constant conflict with a societal desire for revolution and renewal. 

The avant-garde flourished in this atmosphere. The ‘Neue Club‘ was founded in Berlin in 1909. At the club’s ‘Neopathetic Cabaret’, controversial author Frank Wedekind gave readings, as did Heinrich Mann and Franz Kafka, and Arnold Schönberg’s piano pieces were performed there as well. Georg Heym and Jakob van Hoddis forged their ominous visions into powerful figurative verse. And Expressionist painters created lasting images of the era’s lurking sense of uncertainty.

Otto Dix
Sonnenaufgang, 1913
Sunrise, 1913
Öl auf Pappe, 50,5 x 66 cm
Städtische Galerie Dresden – Kunstsammlung, Museen der Stadt Dresden, erworben mit Unterstützung der Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, der Kulturstiftung der Länder, der Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung und der Rudolf-August Oetker Stiftung, 2012

Ferdinand Hodler
Der Redner, 1912
The Orator, 1912
Öl auf Leinwand, 251 x 143,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, erworben durch den Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie

Franz Marc
Die Wölfe (Balkankrieg), 1913
The Wolves (Balkan War), 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 70,8 x 139,7 cm
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Charles Clifton, James G. Forsyth and George W. Goodyear Funds, 1951

Emil Nolde
Schlachtfeld, 1913
Battlefield, 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 106 x 121 cm Nolde Stiftung Seebüll

Jakob Steinhardt
Die Stadt, 1913
The City, 1913
Öl auf Leinwand, 61 x 40 cm
Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie 

From the NY Times:

Ms. Wesenberg used the different-size galleries within the museum to group together works focused on 12 different themes. In the opening section, called “Bathers. Dreams of Paradise,” Max Liebermann’s “Bathing Boys” from 1902 hangs inches away from Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s “Bathers at the Shore,” from 1913, confronting visitors with the parallel subject matter of people depicted splashing in waves, and the stark differences of the rendering of the seashore and the figures. While Kirchner’s undulating waves fill the canvas, and more abstract figures speak to a freedom of movement, Lieberman’s stark horizon and more linear figures create the stiff “appearance of a sports class,” Ms. Wesenberg said.
Although the curator moved away from the original idea of grouping all of the paintings in pairs, several key sets are sprinkled throughout the other sections, stressing the opportunity to compare and contrast. Another example is the pairing of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s lush 1881 painting “Chestnut Tree in Bloom,” with the green of the riverbank melting into the motion of the river, with Erich Heckel’s “Canal in Winter” from 1913-14, depicting the heavy, dark lines of the trees arching, standing in snow-covered banks in Berlin’s Tiergarten.

Special attention was given to women, both as artists and subjects, said Ms. Wesenberg, who included works by lesser-known female Impressionists, such as a picture of a Parisian courtyard, “Houses in Montmartre” by Maria Slavona, and a portrait of a woman standing before a mirror in “The Cheval Glass” by Berthe Morisot.
Throughout the sections, the motif of the self-confident, urban woman as she moves through the city and sits by herself appears frequently in the renderings of the Impressionists, as well as the Expressionists. Ms. Wesenberg noted how the woman featured in Manet’s “In the Conservatory,” from 1878-79, with her detached gaze and umbrella pointed toward her husband, was considered scandalous at the time.