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What is Expressionism in Painting?

Expressionism could be defined as the creative exteriorization of an inner state in order to elicit an emotional response. It is both an artistic trend marked by of a certain period of time but also and above all a powerful source of artistic creation in general.

Express rather than show

Born at the end of the 19th century in Northern Europe, and more particularly in Germany, this artistic current asserted itself in various fields in the first quarter of the 20th century. In reaction to academic art and society in general, Expressionist Artists projected a subjectivity that tended to distort reality to inspire the viewer with an emotional reaction. In painting, the concomitance with progress in photographic technique is certainly no coincidence; more than ever the artist could (should?) free himself from reality and express the world rather than show it. If Impressionism sought to capture a moment, a sensation, Expressionism, on the contrary, attached itself to feelings, to human psychology, which it sought to transcribe and shake up, often with virulence.

The distorting prism of feelings

The artist-painter Van Gogh is often considered a precursor of Expressionism as reflected in his attempt "to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green". The milestones of Fauvism are laid. "Fauve" Artists convey their emotions through the use of bright colors and simplified shapes. Expressionism brings a more tormented, more rebellious dimension. The distressing "The Scream" by painter Edvard Munch is often considered a pioneering work in this artistic trend. The painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, founder of the association Die Brücke (The Bridge) created in 1905, is the leader of a group of German painters who wanted to find a raw and original expression. The prism of feelings encourages rapid drawing, deformation of the line, intense and symbolic colors and accentuated, even brutal shapes. "Primitive" art becomes a source of inspiration because of its great expressiveness. If by its nonconformist aspect it aroused rejection and contempt, and even a condemnation of the Nazi regime which qualified it as "degenerate art", its emotional and spontaneous approach still inspires many artists today.

The spontaneity of emotion as a legacy

If Expressionism was originally the reflection of a pessimistic vision, often haunted by war and crisis, it was also translated, later, in a positive way, notably in the joyful and colorful compositions of the Artist Kandinsky. We also find it colorful in the abstract expressionist works carried out by New York artists from the 1940s, then in the gestural painting (Action Painting) of the 1950s.

"The art of expression" is not limited to a particular style or era. It is an emotional reaction that artists can feel facing the world, facing the issues of their time, as they perceive it, and who try to express it, with force and impulsiveness.

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