Categories: PeopleTrends

Die Brücke

Die Brücke (The Bridge) was a group of German expressionist artists formed in Dresden in 1905. Die Brücke is now considered an important representative of Expressionism and a pioneer of classical modernism. Founding members were Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Later members were Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller. The seminal group had a major impact on the evolution of modern art in the 20th century and the creation of expressionism. The group came to an end around 1913. The Brücke Museum in Berlin was named after the group.

Die Brücke is sometimes compared to the roughly contemporary French group of the Fauves. Both movements shared interests in primitivist art and in the expressing of extreme emotion through high-keyed colors that were very often non-naturalistic. Both movements employed a drawing technique that was crude, and both groups shared an antipathy to complete abstraction. The Die Brücke artists’ emotionally agitated paintings of city streets and sexually charged events transpiring in country settings made their French counterparts, the Fauves, seem tame by comparison.

Characterization and goals
The goals of the artist group were not yet clear in the year of its foundation. “We knew what we had to get away from – but where we would go was less clear,” Heckel later recalled.

The program written by Kirchner was presented to the public on October 9, 1906 in the Elbtal evening mail. Kirchner made a woodcut on which he reproduced the program. A handout issued at the same time in Dresden contained the program text in the following form: “With the belief in development, in a new generation of creators and connoisseurs, we call all young people together. And as a youth who bears the future, we want to create freedom of arms and life for the well-established, older people. Everyone belongs to us who immediately and unadulterated reproduces what urges him to create. ”

One of the declared goals of the bridge was a uniform group style. The main painterly features are the high-contrast, intensive use of color, the change in shape through deliberate coarsening and the omission of details, a woodcut-like character with angular shapes and a bold interior design. Other techniques include woodcut, lithography and watercolor. The paint was sometimes applied very pasty, but sometimes also diluted with petrol to enable faster work.

In contrast to French Fauvism, the bridge painters were concerned not only with the painterly form and composition, but also with the psycho-psychological moments and the knowledge or conjecture associated with them in their eyes about the essence of things. In doing so, they turned away from the image of man in the 19th century and represented previous taboo subjects in their paintings. They wanted to shake up and worry their fellow human beings.

The preferred motifs of the Brücke painters included people on the move, circus and variety shows, the night, the background, people and nature, dance, life in the big city, nudes and bathers.

Picture themes
The first themes of the bridge were city life, the circus and variety show, people on the move, dance, nudes and landscapes. They soon organized excursions to the countryside and the great outdoors, for example to Goppeln. In 1907, Heckel accidentally discovered the village of Dangast in the Atlas, which was frequently visited by the artists in the following years and captured in numerous pictures. Other trips, such as to Fehmarn, the Flensburg Fjord or Nidden on the Curonian Spit were undertaken, but often not closed, but in small groups or alone.

The founding members of Die Brücke in 1905 were four Jugendstil architecture students: Fritz Bleyl (1880–1966), Erich Heckel (1883–1970), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884–1976). They met through the Königliche Technische Hochschule (technical university) of Dresden, where Kirchner and Bleyl began studying in 1901 and became close friends in their first term. They discussed art together and also studied nature, having a radical outlook in common. Kirchner continued studies in Munich 1903–1904, returning to Dresden in 1905 to complete his degree. The institution provided a wide range of studies in addition to architecture, such as freehand drawing, perspective drawing and the historical study of art. The name “Die Brücke” was intended to “symbolize the link, or bridge, they would form with art of the future”.

Die Brücke aimed to eschew the prevalent traditional academic style and find a new mode of artistic expression, which would form a bridge (hence the name) between the past and the present. They responded both to past artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder, as well as contemporary international avant-garde movements. The group published a broadside called Programme in 1906, where Kirchner wrote:
We call all young people together, and as young people, who carry the future in us, we want to wrest freedom for our actions and our lives from the older, comfortably established forces.

As part of the affirmation of their national heritage, they revived older media, particularly woodcut prints. The group developed a common style based on vivid color, emotional tension, violent imagery, and an influence from primitivism. After first concentrating exclusively on urban subject matter, the group ventured into southern Germany on expeditions arranged by Mueller and produced more nudes and arcadian images. They invented the printmaking technique of linocut, although they at first described them as traditional woodcuts, which they also made.

Founded in Dresden – June 1905
In 1902, the architecture students Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl met at the Technical University of Dresden. At the same time, the high school students Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Erich Heckel became acquainted. Two years later they also went to Dresden to study architecture. Through Heckel’s brother, who was friends with Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff and Heckel came into contact with him.

The four fellow students soon discovered their common interest in art and decided to found a group of artists, although none of them had a painting background. However, they had in common the wish to leave the academic style of painting behind and to give art a completely new direction. Schmidt-Rottluff and Heckel dropped out of college in order to devote themselves entirely to painting.

The exact date when the group of artists was founded was controversial for a long time. Art critics such as Karl Scheffler, Carl Einstein, Will Grohmann and Franz Roh fluctuated in their data between 1900 and 1906. It was only in 1973 that the discovery of a Kirchner sketch revealed June 7, 1905 as the day of foundation.

Immediately after their merger, the group created the Odi profanum family book, in which each member noted their ideas and ideas. They derived the motto in reference to an ode of Horace – Odi profanum vulgus (one-way, unholy mob).

Kirchner’s apartment and Bleyl’s studio in the attic of the house on Berliner Strasse 65 soon became too small as collaborative workspaces. Heckel therefore rented an empty butcher’s shop on Berliner Strasse 60 in Dresden’s Friedrichstadt, which was used by the artists as a warehouse and later by Kirchner as a place to live, sleep and work. As a former studio Schuster Laden, who had served good light. The rooms were decorated with batiks and pictures and furnished with self-made and painted furniture. In this environment, the artists went to work. They found the first nude models in their girlfriends and also devoted themselves to reading Nietzsche,Arno Holz and Walt Whitman.

The beginning of the bridge was very productive. Heckel later said: Here [in the studio] we were free every hour. As Heckel painted his pictures, however partial and Schmidt-Rottluff destroyed most of his early works, from this stage only a few works have survived.

Advertising additional members from 1906
The campaign for more active and passive members began early on. Passive members were offered – for an annual membership fee of 12 and later 25 marks – an annual portfolio with original graphics of the artists as well as an annual report with information about the work of the bridge.

In 1906, besides Max Pechstein, Emil Nolde also joined the group. Schmidt-Rottluff wrote to Nolde, 17 years older and more advanced, in the spring of 1906, “The local artists’ group Brücke would be very honored to be able to welcome you as a member.” Nolde had not only given the group of artists significant contacts in terms of art history, but also the art of etching. However, he left the group as early as 1907. He felt artistically “disturbed” by the trend towards a uniform style and said: “You shouldn’t call yourself a bridge, but van Goghiana ”. Bleyl also withdrew from the group to a teaching as an architect in Freiberg to take over.

The advertising of other active members was not without success, but they mostly remained distant, occasionally helpful satellites. The strongest were the Swiss Cuno Amiet and the Dutch Kees van Dongen from the circle of the Fauves. Amiet was post Heckel 1906 and addressed van Dongen 1908 by Pechstein personally in Paris. Van Dongen, the internationally most important recruitment of the bridge, took part in the parallel exhibition of French artists in the Emil Richter art salon in 1908 and is a member for one year. With Edvard Munch and Henri Matissethe bridge also asked the fathers of its own rebellion to join – to no avail.

At the time of its dissolution, the group had 68 passive members, mainly intellectuals and members of the bourgeoisie. In Hamburg it was first the lawyer and graphic collector Gustav Schiefler with his wife Luise who heard about the foundation of the bridge in autumn 1905 and traveled to Dresden. Schiefler created catalogs of works by many artists and began cataloging Kirchner’s prints in 1917.

In 1907, the Hamburg art historian Dr. Pink Schapire for admission as a passive member. She dedicated her life to the works of the Brücke artists, gave lectures, compiled a list of works, and kept busy exchanging postcards and letters with the painters. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, whom she most valued, painted the portrait of Rosa Schapire in 1911. Also in 1907, Martha Rauert, wife of the Hamburg lawyer and well-known art patron Dr. Paul Rauert, brother-in-law and close friend Albert Ballins, added to the ranks of passive members of the bridge Karl Schmidt-Rottluff painted Paul Rauert in 1911. Emil Nolde painted him in 1910 and 1915. Another passive member was the art historian Wilhelm Niemeyer.

Pechstein moved to Berlin – 1908
In 1908 Pechstein moved to Berlin. He was to paint a house for the architect Bruno Schneidereit on Kurfürstendamm and set up a studio there. Heckel and Kirchner visited him several times. Pechstein later reported: “When we were together in Berlin, I agreed with Heckel and Kirchner that the three of us wanted to work on the lakes around Moritzburg near Dresden.”

The aim of these excursions was to show the harmony of people and the landscape. The artists wanted to portray people in their true nature. Bathers were a very popular motif. In addition to friends of the artists, children also served as nude models. In particular, the nine-year-old Fränzi was often and happily portrayed by the Brücke painters. Pechstein was of the opinion that working on the Moritzburg lakes had “brought the community a great deal again”. At this time, a uniform group style was first recognized.

Foundation of the New Secession – 1910
In 1910 Pechstein’s pictures were rejected by the Berlin Secession. This resulted in the foundation of the New Secession under Pechstein’s leadership, which the other bridge members also joined out of solidarity. In May 1910, the protest exhibition of the rejected by the Secession Berlin took place in the Kunstsalon Macht at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The reviews were devastating. Max Osborn wrote that if the group continues blindly on this path, the end will be a major fiasco and a tremendous cat whine.

Pechstein noted in his memoirs: “Our pictures were spied on, insults were scribbled on the frame and a painting of me (…) was pierced by a wrongdoer with a nail or pencil.” As a result of this exhibition, Otto Mueller was the last member of the Group at.

Related Post

Moving to Berlin – the end of 1911
At the end of 1911, the other members followed Pechstein and also moved to the capital. Heckel took over Mueller’s studio in Steglitz. Kirchner moved to Wilmersdorf, where Pechstein also worked, and founded the painting school MUIM Institute (modern teaching in painting), which had to close shortly afterwards due to a lack of students.

In Berlin, the Brücke painters hoped for better contact with collectors and dealers as well as an open-minded audience. Life was tough, however, and the artists faced severe financial hardship. They contacted the publishers Herwarth Walden and Franz Pfemfert and published their work in their magazines Der Sturm and Die Aktion.

Life in the big city had a lasting influence on the artists. Here they came into contact for the first time with the works of Cubism and Futurism, whose style elements flowed into their own pictures. Even if the Brücke members continued to work together, the group style slowly dissolved and several individual styles took their place.

In February 1912, they exhibited in the Goltz Gallery in Munich in the second exhibition of the Blue Rider, which had been founded there a year earlier, and participated in the important special federal exhibition in Cologne in the summer.

Shortly afterwards, Pechstein was expelled from the bridge as a traitor because he had exhibited in the Berlin Secession without the permission of the others. Kirchner later spoke of a breach of trust. The already completed Year Pack on Pechstein was then no longer be published, and the group met inferred from the New Secession from.

Resolution – May 1913
In the 1912 annual report, Kirchner announced that a chronicle of Brücke would appear in the spring. This font, written by Kirchner, was created in agreement with the other group members, but the text was too one-sided for them and was rejected. Kirchner presented himself in the chronicle as a true genius of the group and emphasized his influence. He also used a pseudonym to write reviews of the works of the Brücke painters, in which he accused the other members of having read about him. In order to substantiate his claim to leadership, he even pre-dated some of his pictures.

Heckel later said about the chronicle: “The text offended us.” Kirchner again felt the rejection by his comrades as ingratitude and subsequently withdrew more and more. In May 1913 the other members then decided to dissolve the group. In a letter that Kirchner no longer signed, Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff informed the passive members.

The chronicle that ultimately led to the end of the community was still published by Kirchner a few years later. He later distanced himself from the bridge and no longer wanted to be mentioned in connection with it.

Members of the bridge
The members of the artists’ group Brücke, in brackets the time of their membership:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1905-1913)
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1905-1913)
Fritz Bleyl (1905-1907)
Erich Heckel (1905-1913)
Max Pechstein (1906-1912)
Emil Nolde (1906-1907)
Otto Mueller (1910-1913)

Although the following artists were included in the group, they are still not counted among the narrow circle of bridge members since they rarely worked with the other members and were only involved in a few exhibitions.

Cuno Amiet (1906-1913)
Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1907-1908)
Kees van Dongen (1908-1909)
Franz Nölken (1908-1912)
Bohumil Kubišta (1911-1913)


A great role model of the bridge was Vincent van Gogh, of whom 50 paintings had already been exhibited in the Arnold Gallery in Dresden in 1905. Fritz Schumacher, a former teacher of the Brücke members, said that the artists were “out of their hands ” given the pictures. Van Gogh’s influence is particularly evident when it comes to brushwork and coloring.

Even Paul Gauguin influenced the art of bridge sustainable. His pictures were shown in Dresden in 1906. Gauguin’s trips to Tahiti later prompted Nolde and Pechstein to stay in the South Pacific and Palau.

The Brücke painters received numerous suggestions during visits to the Dresden Kupferstichkabinett and the Renaissance and Baroque works exhibited there. Kirchner was a great admirer of Albrecht Dürer, whom he described in the chronicle as the “ Boy Scout of Design ”.

The artists dealt in detail with woodcuts from the 15th and 16th centuries and flat woodcuts from the 19th century. In the Dresden Ethnological Museum they got to know African primitive art (art primitif), whose wooden sculptures and masks influenced their creative expression. Corresponding study objects were acquired from dealers of exotic art, which were still rare in Germany at the time, such as the folklorist Julius Konietzko.

During her time in Dresden, the group received several art magazines, including the English studio and the Munich youth. They discovered symbolism and Art Nouveau in publications such as Ver Sacrum. At one point, Kirchner brought a volume by Julius Meier-Graefe on modern French art from a library. Bleyl said: “We were enthusiastic (…) We were looking for further training, progressive development and a solution for the conventional.” In 1907, after a stay in Italy, Pechstein traveled to Paris and learned the work of the Fauvesknow. In 1908 the two groups exhibited together in Dresden. In the Berlin years of the bridge, cubist and futuristic elements can be found in the paintings of the artists.

Edvard Munch’s influence on the group of artists is not clearly documented. In 1906, 20 works by the painter could be seen in the Saxon Art Association, the membership of which the bridge sought in vain. However, all members later denied having been influenced by Munch.

In the years of the Weimar Republic, the former bridge members Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner became particularly popular. The artist group’s atmospheric images also had a decisive influence on the development of German film in the 1920s and 1930s. Directors like Fritz Lang (Metropolis), Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror) or Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) cited Expressionist stylistic devices in their works.

In 1926 Kirchner painted the group picture An Artists’ Community, on which Schmidt-Rottluff, Heckel and Mueller can be seen alongside himself.

During the National Socialist era, expressionist images were considered “ degenerate art ”. The exhibition “Degenerate Art”, which showed a total of about 650 pictures, consisted almost half of the work of the Brücke painters.

In 1957, the Oldenburger Kunstverein organized the groundbreaking exhibition “Painters of the bridge in Dangast from 1907 to 1912”, which was curated by the curator at the Lower Saxony State Museum of Art and Cultural History, Gerhard Wietek. The exhibition, which also showed the historical significance of the North Sea resort of Dangast, made a significant contribution to subsequent research on the group of artists.

In 1967, the Brücke Museum was opened in Berlin, the construction of which was encouraged by Schmidt-Rottluff. The museum has around 400 paintings and sculptures and a few thousand drawings, watercolors and graphics, making it the world’s largest contiguous collection of works by these expressionist artists. In 2001 the Museum of Imagination was opened in Bernried, which exhibits the extensive collection of well-known works by the Brücke painters brought together by Lothar-Günther Buchheim.

In addition to the Blue Rider, the artists’ group Brücke and their works enjoy the reputation of many art connoisseurs that they are the most important contribution of 20th century German art to “world art”.

Die Brücke was one of two groups of German painters fundamental to Expressionism, the other being Der Blaue Reiter group (“The Blue Rider”), formed in Munich in 1911. The influence of Die Brücke went far beyond its founding members. As a result, the style of a number of painters is associated to Die Brücke, even if they were not formerly part of the group. As an example, French academician and art specialist, Maurice Rheims mentions Frédéric Fiebig as the only Latvian painter who was really part of Die Brücke expressionist movement, although he was not necessarily conscious of it.