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modernism, spring2002
Die Brucke

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all the images can be found at http://www.moma.org/brucke/

 A German expressionist group Die Brucke (the bridge) was founded in 1905 by Ernest Ludwig Kirchner in Dresden, as an answer to the influence of Munchs social pessimism and the color of Fauvist paintings.  Like that of Munch, those young artists belonged to the group exploited anxiety condensed in modern cities, but they took it further to connect or to find a path between German past and future.  They were against academic or traditional art of bourgeois, and tried to establish a new esthetics of modern art.

 

In surfing the page of MoMAs Die Burke exihibition, I have decided to analyze the theme of Portrait, since after all, those artists were trying to reveal the core of human psyche apart from conventional code at that time.  All the artists seem to pay attention more to the moods and characters of the depicted subject over details in mise-en-scene. Many of the works I have found in this section are black-and-white, and it was intriguingly interesting to know those artists find woodcut works as more direct art.  f

 

Schmidt-Ruttuff was the first to start making lithograph among the group.  Throughout his career, he was interested in faces and their shape, characters, even in masks. His Young Roman lithograph shows dark shadows over most of the face of this young man.  Around his eyes lie dark circles, which gives the viewer a kind of haunted impressions as well as the casting shadow over cheeks on both sides and his chin.  This almost skull-like figure is drawn full of the upper canvas in contrast to the rather vacant lower part, which also express suffering and depression this person is carrying. (psych over body)

 

Erich Hackels work is characterized by the off-center composition of the subject, angular status, and using parallel lines.  He experimented in different media, but his woodcut work is among the most stunning.  In A.N., he depicts the most popular German actress after WW1.  This black-and-white print almost looks like a work of Cubist with sharp lines around nose, and drowsing eyes.   The above-shoulder of the woman occupies most of the canvas, and in the background, we see a spiral staircase like the ones often seen in noir films. This extreme division between the background and foreground is drawn by amount of blackness used in depicting subjects.  When the womans face is shaped by black lines, the background seems like drawn by white lines and shapes.  On the face, there is almost no line on the vast forehead; instead, harsh lines lie from upper cheek to the bottom of her neck, which is creating a harsh, strict image on her.  In his later woodcut work, he uses colors and fewer lines in trying to drug out the inner essence of the subject on to the paper.  In Portrait of a Man, the orange background does not carry warmth as it usually does in other paintings; it only evokes uneasiness and insanity the subject carries behind.  The use of dark and light blue distance the viewer from the subject, and eyes looking somewhere also tell us that the man is aware of us, but we are not in his thought.  Rattling lines from his forehead to the lower cheek show his pain inside looking like veins.

 

The leader of the Brucke group, Kirchner, produced unusual series of woodcut prints.  Among those is the Head of Ludwig Schames, where he places the subject in the front occupying the most of the paper surface.  The lines are delicate but sharp, and almost no rounding lines are seen in these woodprints.  Those sharp straight lines shows very well the personality of the subject who seems like an stubborn old man with aggressively strong will over his life and world around him.  In the background, an angular female nude is depicted almost hidden completely behind the man.  May it be his lover or just a model for this work, she is distorted by an external force and her figure is as motionless as most part of her face.  However her eyes are looking into us far deeper than that of the mans in the front, telling isolation and sadness of her being.  Also the characteristic of Kirchner is that he started to incorporate natural irregular surface of the woodblock into the composition, which is clearly shown in this work by its non-rectangular overall shape. 

 

Nolde did this self-portrait in 1907, which almost looks like it was done by pastel or other kind of drawing pencils.  He positions himself in the dead center, with the light source coming from his upper left, which casts dark shadows below his hat especially around eye areas.  However his right eye is starting at us as if it is trying to decide if we were criminals or something, which reminds me of the eyes of detectives.   The mostly white surface of the paper also gives us a clevera, clean image on him, but also the fact that the body existence is shown only by one line and the pipe adds some hollowness and loneliness behind.

 

Although the group of artists lived in a small communal atmosphere in isolation, each artist had different interests and styles perusing in terms of depicting human psych.  They tried to establish a new modern art apart from Paris, which would be more original to German culture. 

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