German art and architecture

The Twentieth Century

The sentimental genre scenes and derivative neoclassic artistic production of the 19th cent. were replaced in the 20th cent. by a fresh, more vital sensibility. In the early years of the century the influence of Gauguin was strong. At the same time, English art nouveau design innovations were adopted in the applied arts in Germany and termed jugendstil.

The wave of 20th-century masters that emerged from the Berlin secession, led by Max Liebermann, created an art known as expressionism for its purposeful distortion of natural forms. The expressionist movement came in three waves: the first, the Brücke (1905), included E. L. Kirchner and Emil Nolde; the Blaue Reiter (1911) attracted several foreign artists, such as Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, and Wassily Kandinsky; and in the 1920s Otto Dix and Max Beckmann were principal exponents of the disenchanted realism called the new objectivity. Artists working in related styles included Oskar Kokoschka and Käthe Kollwitz.

Several of these same artists also taught at the Bauhaus, led by Walter Gropius and later by Miës van der Rohe. This establishment became the chief breeding place of functionalism and encouraged experimentation and abstraction with the ideal of combining artistic beauty with usefulness. The Nazi regime, however, regarding abstract and expressionist works as degenerate, discouraged and destroyed any but heroic, propagandistic art, and the Germany of the 1930s and early 40s produced nothing of artistic significance. The Bauhaus aesthetic was taught and practiced in the United States by European expatriates and their disciples, while German architecture, massive and dull, glorified the Nazi style. In the period since World War II the dominant architectural designers have included Hans Scharoun, Helmut Striffler, Werner Duttmann, and Gottfried Bohm. The abstract movement has been led by Willi Baumeister, Theodore Werner, Fritz Winter, E. W. Nay, Winfred Gaul, and G. K. Pfaher.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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