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  Expressionism was a style in the Western arts which straddled the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Until the 19th century, the arts had been principally concerned with the depiction of reality, and artists used emotion—their own or their subject\'s—as one component of expression and not its guarantor. Expressionist art, by contrast, dealt directly with the transmission of emotion. It was subjective and incoherent rather than objective and precise. The urge towards the overt expression of feeling began with the Romantic movement at the end of the 18th century, but true expressionism was only liberated a century later, when Freud\'s work made complexes, neuroses and private obsessions acceptable subjects for polite study and for the arts.

In music, though earlier compositions like Berlioz\'s Symphonie fantastique or Wagner\'s Tristan and Isolde are clearly concerned above all with emotion, the term ‘expressionist’ is generally reserved for such works as Scriabin\'s Poem of Ecstasy, Richard Strauss\'s Salome or Schoenberg\'s Verklärte Nacht and Erwartung (high peaks of the style).

In literature, though the chief expressionists are turn-of-the-century writers, such as Mallarmé, Huysmans and Maeterlinck, expressionist aims and techniques also influenced later writers, for example André Gide, Proust, Franz Kafka and, in his blunter way, Hemingway. In drama, expressionism was the style of men such as Strindberg, Frank Wedekind and Georg Kaiser, and hardly survived the 1920s. It can still be found in the cinema, in the work of such directors as Murnau or Fritz Lang and more modern exponnents of Gothic or horrific mystery, for example Hitchcock\'s Psycho and Ingmar Bergman\'s The Seventh Seal, both of which use expressionist techniques.

The most lasting expressionist work has been in fine art. Here, creators sought to give pictorial expression to states of mind, religious or social convictions, in images which in their roughness of execution and simplicity of line and plane broke with the conventions of academic art. In their place they favoured a frame of reference influenced by naive and folk art. The two most thorough-going exponents of the style were the Bridge Group (Dresden, 1905), whose members carried expressionism to extremes in violent and aggressive compositions, and the Blue Rider Group (from 1911 onwards), whose members evolved a more structured style. More generally, expressionist painting ranges from the harsh canvases of Munch and Kokoschka (which show recognizable people in states of nightmare psychological alarm) or the paintings of Kandinsky (whose aim was to paint abstract emotion, and whose results often seem experimental and chaotic rather than exact) to the much later Abstract Expressionism of painters such as de Kooning, Dubuffet or Robert Motherwell. Many other artists (for example, Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall and Georges Rouault), though not full-hearted expressionists, have used the emotional fervency and gaudy colour characteristic of the style.

In fine arts, neoexpressionism was a label used in the 1980s and beyond to describe the work of narrative-based expressionist painters, principally in Germany, who reacted against the banalities of conceptual art and the impersonality of minimalism. Typical examples are the work of Anselm Kiefer, who depicted his country\'s past in such works as To the Unknown Painter (a commentary on the tragedy of the Nazi period in Germany), and Georg Baselitz\'s paintings of people literally upside-down, designed as a comment on the human condition. Other leading neoexpressionists include Francesco Clemente, Jörg Immendorff, A.R. Penck and Julian Schnabel.

In architecture, expressionism was identified with the works of architects in Germany, Holland and Scandinavia from the end of World War I until the 1920s. The expressionist buildings are characterized by unusual angular or organic forms and internal volumes, to some extent made possible by the imaginative use of reinforced concrete. The historian Pevsner saw the style as a deviation from the development of the Modernist movement, working under the influence of Art Nouveau in the political crisis following World War I. The prewar work most closely identified with expressionism is probably that of Peter Behrens (1868 - 1940), particularly his factories for A.E.G. in Berlin (1908-1913), and certainly the postwar work of Bauhaus, during the Weimar period, is felt to have absorbed the principal features of expressionism, visually the stark expressive simplicity and theoretically a sense of architecture\'s ethical obligation, as a tool for raising social standards. The best-known examples of postwar expressionist architecture are the Chilehaus in Hamburg of 1923, the work of , Fritz Hoeger (1877 - 1949) and the interior of the Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin of 1919 by , Hans Poelzig (1869 - 1936). Perhaps one of the most striking of all buildings in the expressionist idiom was an early work of , Erich Mendelson (1887 - 1953), the ‘Einstenurm’, an observatory tower, built at Potsdam in 1920, an organic form with a motif of streamlining which was to become so important in Western industrial design. PD MG JM KMcL

Further reading K. Honnef, Contemporary Art; , W. Pehnt, Expressionist Architecture; , D. Sharp, Modern Architecture and Expressionism; , John Willett, Expressionism.



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