Post-World War I Germany and the Expressionist Artists

Otto Dix
Self-portrait as a soldier

Course Outline
Post WWI Germany
The Beginning
Die Brücke & Der Blaue Reiter
The Artists
Entartete Kunst
Hitler the Artist
Golden Age of German Cinema

The Films
The Directors
Film Noir
Recent Films

The German Expressionism movement began in 1905, but it was not until after World War I that it evolved into the political statement that ultimately became the source of its destruction. In order to understand German Expressionism, it is necessary to understand something of the postwar years in Germany and the effect that period had on the artists and the society in which they worked.

August MackeMany of the German Expressionism artists had served in the military during World War I. Two well-known German Expression artists, August Macke and Franz Marc, were killed and those who survived returned from the experience disillusioned, depressed, sometimes maimed and often shell-shocked. The Germany to which they returned was a country overwhelmed with major economic, social, and political problems. Parties from both the extreme left and extreme right were bitter political enemies that shared one common goal; to overthrow the current government. The final blow to an already shaky economy was the signing of the Versailles Treaty in 1919 which cost Germany not only some of its land (new states of Poland and Czechoslovakia were created) but massive amounts in reparation for the costs of the war.

The poverty and feeling of betrayal and humiliation that followed the signing of the Versailles Treaty affected all levels of German society. Artists and citizens alike were ready to discard all of the old-fashioned ideals. Expressionism became a new spiritual attitude that reflected the corruption of the upper classes and the despair of the common man.

Prior to the War, Expressionism painting had concentrated on celebrating the natural world and spirituality. But after the War, Expressionism painting became dark and politically centered. Kevin Cannon describes the effect of the war on German Expressionism artists in his essay, German Expressionism Going Under: War and Disillusionment, from the Walking a Tightrope exhibition at Grinnell College.

Germany & World War I Resources

First World
The Great War & The Shaping of the 21st Century
The Great War
German Expressionism Prints about War from the LACMA collections
BBC - World War I
World War I - Trenches on the Web
Art of World War One - A UNESCO Project

Learning Activities

1. Using the Venture-Learn library and the web, see if you can find any similarities and/or differences between the economic and political climate of the United States since September 11, 2001 and Germany after the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

2. What were Wilson's fourteen points in the Fourteen Points Peace Programme?

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