Die Brucke
The Bridge: German Expressionist Art Group, Led by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel.

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Berlin Street Scene (1913)
Brucke Museum, Berlin.
By Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of
the most influential artists in the
early expressionist movement.

Die Brucke (The Bridge) (1905-13)
Expressionist Art Group in Dresden

An influential mini-movement of German Expressionism, Die Brucke (The Bridge) consisted of a group of Expressionist painters, who came together in Dresden in 1905. Its founders, all architecture students at the Dresden Technical School who shared a studio in the city, included Fritz Bleyl (1880-1966), Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) and Erich Heckel (1883-1970). Determined to act as a bridge between academic art and the newly developing modern art, Die Brucke artists were inspired mainly by Fauvism, as well as the traditional social concern and angst, characteristic of Nordic culture. Other influences included Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), African and Oceanic art, tribal motifs - all of which were combined with Fauvist colourism, to create an ultimately modern style of expressionism. The centre for much of this avant-garde art was Walden's Sturm Gallery, in Berlin.


Reclining Woman (1909)
Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich.
By Erich Heckel.

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Self-Portrait with a Monocle (1910)
Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen Berlin.
By Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.

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Similar to its later Munich counterpart Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), Die Brucke was open to 20th century painters from around Europe, thus in 1906 the Swiss painter Cuno Amiet (1868-1961) and the German Emil Nolde (1867-1956) were invited to join, as were Max Pechstein (1881-1955) and the Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931). From 1908, the Dutch Paris-based painter Kees van Dongen (1877-1968) was a sympathiser, while Otto Mueller (1874-1930) joined in 1911.

Style of Expressionism

Initially influenced by the Parisian style of Fauvism, which was founded in the same year, Die Brucke soon established its own Germanic identity based on radical social views and an untrained but direct approach to painting technique, with its garish colour-schemes and bold outlines. If Fauvism was a sophisticated, exuberant style, Die Brucke was a cruder and more strident idiom. Exemplified by dramatic landscape painting, outdoor female nudes, mystical and visionary compositions, urban scenes and rough figure painting, noted works include: Nude on a Sofa (1909) by Erich Heckel; Gap in the Dyke (1910), and Two Women (1912) by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff; The Prophet (1912, woodcut) by Emil Nolde; Semi-Nude Woman with Hat (1911), and Berlin Street Scene (1913) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Exhibitions

Die Brucke actively promoted itself at over twenty exhibitions (1906-13) showing a variety of media including woodcuts, posters and fabric designs, as well as painting and sculpture. However, divisions within the group emerged from 1907 onwards, and as the geographical focus of the group shifted from Dresden to Berlin - a move completed by 1911 - the already divided movement began to fragment in the nervous atmosphere of the German capital, with its claustrophobic pre-war tension, decadence and depravity. For instance, Heckel and Kirchner, in particular, developed a more intense series of expressionist paintings marked by broken forms and dissonant colours. The group disbanded voluntarily in 1913. During the 1930s several Die Brucke artists were persecuted by the Nazis as part of the Nazi campaign against Degenerate Art ("entartete kunst"). Fifty four years later, a museum dedicated to the art of Die Brucke was opened in Berlin by Schmidt-Rottluff. See also: History of Expressionist Painting (c.1880-1930).

Key Collections

Although works by Die Brucke artists hang in many of the world's best art museums, good collections can be viewed at these institutions:

- Brucke Museum, Berlin
- Kunsthaus, Hamburg.
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York
- Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.

For a later German Expressionist style, see: Die Neue Sachlichkeit.

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