1905 - 1933
Now the threads artists had been weaving since the Realists of the mid-1800s began to come together in a completely new way. The focus on themes drawn from common life, blended with the thick brush strokes of Impressionism, the dramatic colors of the Fauvists, the emotionalism of the Symbolists and, in some cases, the decorative instincts of Art Nouveau, created work that let out a tribal scream. For Expressionists, the temperaments of van Gogh and Gauguin were, apparently, too mild.
Forms became distorted to represent emotions and responses rather than realistic depictions of subjects. In this way, the Expressionists were closely aligned with the Symbolists. In fact, many of the early Expressionists, including Edvard Munch, can also be listed as Symbolists. Although there were still representational elements to their paintings, abstractions were starting to take over.
An important link to the emotional themes of the Symbolists was provided by two groups of German Expressionists known as Die Brucke and Der Blaue Reiter. Both took the Symbolists quest for emotional expression in new directions.
Die Brucke came first. They were a Dresden-based bohemian collective of artists who expressed emotion in non-academic forms, including wood sculpture, woodblock prints and simplistic, almost "primitive” forms of painting reminiscent of Gauguin’s work in Tahiti.
Der Blaue Reiter artists took the Symbolists search for psychological meaning and formed a philosophy that color and form carried certain spiritual meanings. Their very name, roughly translated as “the Blue Rider” referred to a belief that blue was the most spiritual color and a “rider” was a symbol of moving beyond.
This movement started in Germany and spread throughout Europe. It is thought to reflect a society where industrialization and the World War had created widespread anxiety and alienation. This is a time when artists stopped depending on the world around them for inspiration and, rather, started to paint their own emotional states. Their work provided the first inklings of political commentary that grew to full bloom in Italy and Russia during the Futurist and Constructivist movements.