What is Expressionist Art? - Characteristics

Expressionism is an extremely personal art form. The expressionist artist strives to convey his personal feelings about the painted object, rather than simply recording his observation. Thus, in order to achieve maximum impact on the viewer, accuracy of representation is sacrificed (distorted) in favor of (for example) strong outlines and vivid colors. The compositions tend to be more simple and straightforward, and are often characterized by thick heavy paste painting, loose, freely applied strokes, and symbolism. The message is essential.

Expressionism as a general style

As you can see from the explanation above, Expressionism is really a general style of art, rather than a specific movement. Thus, one could argue that the Expressionist movement truly began with prehistoric cave painting, was continued by anonymous artists throughout classical antiquity and the Middle Ages, before being taken up by Italian Renaissance artists. like Donatello (1386-1466), Matthias Grunewald (1475-1528), Mannerists like El Greco and artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, modern innovators such as Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Matisse (1869-1954) and Picasso (1881-1973) until the middle of the 20th century, masters like Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Francis Bacon (1909-1992).

In short, as a general style of painting and sculpture, Expressionism has always existed and will continue to exist.

History of Expressionism

As a movement, the term "Expressionism" generally refers to the schools of emotional or performing art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which emerged primarily in Germany and Paris as a reaction to the more passive style of the impressionism. In that it was a reaction to Impressionism, Expressionism can be described as an example of "post-Impressionism". In any event, whereas Impressionist painters sought only to reproduce nature (notably the effects of sunlight), Expressionist painters sought to express their feelings about what they saw. It was a more active, more subjective type of modern art.

The roots of modern-era expressionist art can be traced to the extraordinary landscapes and other works (see Interior at Petworth, left) by British artist JMW Turner (1775-1851). His unique style predated by at least 40 years the emergence of the Expressionist momentum of the late 19th century. After Turner, Dutchman Vincent van Gogh was the second pioneer of the movement. He was one of three important exponents of the late 19th century style, namely:

Pioneers of Expressionism

Van Gogh (1853-1890) illustrates expressionism. Most of his paintings were not only autobiographical, in that they chronicled his thoughts, feelings, and sanity, but even the composition, colors, and brushstrokes of his paintings were a true reflection of his feelings. Few artists since have matched his true intensity of self-expression. See his unique style of expressionist painting at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo.

If Van Gogh distorts form and color to convey his inner feelings, the French artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) relied on color to express his emotions. He also employed symbolism, but it was his color in painting that really set him apart. In addition to Expressionism, he also influenced the development of Synthetism as well as Cloisonism, during his time at Pont-Aven.