German art just before the Third Reich

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Many intellectuals have stated that from the 1920s up to the early 1930s (the Weimar Republic period), Germany was the country with the most advanced science, technology, literature, philosophy and art.[1][2] All this was later dismantled with the advent of the Third Reich,[2] and replaced with the art of the Third Reich.

Even more than in other countries, German art in the early 20th century developed through a number of loose groups and movements, many covering other artistic media as well, and often with a specific political element, as with the Arbeitsrat für Kunst and November Group, both formed in 1918. By the 1920s a "Cartel of advanced artistic groups in Germany" (Kartell fortschrittlicher Künstlergruppen in Deutschland) was found necessary.


Grotesque boom[edit]

A major feature of German art in the early 20th century until 1933 was a boom in the production of works of art of a grotesque style.[3][4] Artists using the Satirical-Grotesque genre included George Grosz, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, at least in their works of the 1920s. Dada in Germany, the leading practitioners of which were Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Höch, was centered in Berlin, where it tended to be more politically oriented than Dada groups elsewhere.[5] They made important contributions to the development of collage as a medium for political commentary- Schwitters later developed his Merzbau, a forerunner of installation art.[5] Dix and Grosz were also associated with the Berlin Dada group. Max Ernst led a Dada group in Cologne, where he also practiced collage, but with a greater interest in Gothic fantasy than in overt political content- this hastened his transition into surrealism, of which he became the leading German practitioner.[6] The Swiss-born Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger and others experimented with cubism.


Main article: German Expressionism

Expressionism emerged as an 'avant-garde' in poetry and painting before the first World War, and in the Weimar years was appreciated by a mass audience,[7] having its popularity peak in Berlin, during the 1920s. The typical trait of Expressionist literary works or paintings is to present the world under the an utterly individual perspective, "violently distorting it under the pressure of intense personal moods, ideas, and emotions."[7][8]

Expressionist works spawned from painting, theatre, films, music and architecture. Fritz Lang was the major expressionist movie-maker. In German art, some considered the transition from impressionism to expressionism, as a transition from bourgeois to popular, from right-wing to left-wing.[9] Weimar culture was dominated, in its early years, by the expressionist aesthetics; in the years preceding Weimar, it was frequent for expressionist poets to make inflammatory statements and for expressionist painters to exhibit outrageous pictures.[10] Weimar expressionist theater was fundamentally influenced by earlier playwright August Strindberg.[11]

The Nazis attacked expressionists artists as 'degenerate artists', and in general the enemies of the Weimar culture hated all expressionists.[12]

Cabaret and political satire[edit]

The Weimar years saw a flourishing of political and grotesque cabaret. The main center for political cabaret was Berlin, with performers like comedian Otto Reutter.[13] Karl Valentin was instead a master of grotesque cabaret.



Main article: Bauhaus

The Bauhaus, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919, was a design school that combined crafts and the fine art, which aimed to create a "total" work combining all artistic disciplines. It operated until 1933, and became most famous for its architecture.

New Objectivity[edit]

The New Objectivity, or Neue Sachlichkeit (new matter-of-factness), was an art movement which arose in Germany during the 1920s as an outgrowth of, and in opposition to, expressionism. It is thus post-expressionist and applied to works of visual art as well as literature, music, architecture, and film. It describes the stripped-down, simplified building style of the Bauhaus and the Weissenhof Settlement, the urban planning and public housing projects of Bruno Taut and Ernst May, and the industrialization of the household typified by the Frankfurt kitchen.

In visual art, Grosz and Dix were leading figures, forming the "Verist" side of the movement with Beckmann and Christian Schad, Rudolf Schlichter, Georg Scholz (in his early work), and Karl Hubbuch. The other tendency is sometimes called Magic Realism, and included Anton Räderscheidt, Georg Schrimpf, Alexander Kanoldt, and Carl Grossberg. Unlike some of the other groupings, the Neue Sachlichkeit was never a formal group, and its artists were associated with other groups; the term was invented by a sympathetic curator, and "Magic Realism" by an art critic.[14]

Plakatstil - poster style[edit]

Plakatstil, "poster style" in German, was an early style of poster design that began in the early 1900s, using bold, straight fonts with very simple designs, in contrast to Art Nouveau posters. Lucian Bernhard was a leading figure.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Letter from Guy Debord To the Spur group, 28 April 1962
  2. ^ a b Daniele Luttazzi (2009) La guerra civile fredda, p.122
  3. ^ Esti Sheinberg (2000) Irony, Satire, Parody and the Grotesque in the Music of Dmitrii SHostakovich, pp.248–9, ISBN 978-0-7546-0226-2
  4. ^ Pamela Kort (2004) Comic Grotesque, Prestel Publishing ISBN 978-3-7913-3195-9
  5. ^ a b Hunter, Jacobus, and Wheeler (2000) pp. 173–77
  6. ^ Hamilton, 473–478
  7. ^ a b Bruce Thompson, University of California, Santa Cruz, lecture on WEIMAR CULTURE/KAFKA'S PRAGUE
  8. ^ Chris Baldick Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, entry for Expressionism
  9. ^ Gay (1968) p.2
  10. ^ Gay (1968) p.4
  11. ^ Gay (1968) p.7
  12. ^ Gay (1968) p.108
  13. ^ Peter Gay (1968) Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider p.131
  14. ^ Hamilton, 478–479