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The Bridge is a German art association founded by four students of architecture on June 7, 1905 in Dresden. The founders were Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmitt-Rottluff and Fritz Bleyl. Later Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein joined the group. The Bridge represents together with the group The Blue Rider the art movement of the German Expressionism.
German Expressionism was influenced by the predominance of French painting. German artists had seen the paintings of the Impressionists and the beginnings of Fauvism in Paris. German expressionism in a simplified way can be seen as the German version of Fauvism. The name The Bridge was chosen to emphasis the link to other art movements like the European Renaissance,
Art Nouveau, Tribal Art and contemporary art movements outside Germany. The members of The Bridge had invited Henri Matisse, the leading figure of French Fauvism to join their group. But he was not interested.
Like The Blue Rider, also The Bridge had a short life. In 1913, the group dissolved in controversy. But all artists continued their work after World War I until 1933. When the German Nazis came to power the former artists of The Bridge were declared as "entartet" (degenerated). All works were banned from museums and either sold outside Germany or burned in public.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner had briefly studied painting in Munich, before he came to Dresden in Saxonia as a student of architecture. In 1911 he moved to Berlin. The experience of World War I as a soldier was devastating for his physical and psychological health. In 1917 he moved to Davos in Switzerland for recovery.
The painting style of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is characterized by colorful and daring compositions. His early works remind of ethnographical art of Africa and the South Sea. Later while he lived in Berlin, he painted scenes from the streets. During his exile in Switzerland the landscape paintings of the Swiss mountains are among his most beautiful ones.
Kirchner suffered more and more from poor health and was desperate about the political situation in Germany. In 1938 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner committed suicide.
Emil Nolde came from the most Northern part of Germany. He was born as the son of a farmer. Nolde's original name was Hansen. In 1901 he changed his name to Nolde. Emil Nolde had joined The Brucke group in 1906 but was ousted by the others one year later. Nolde painted preferably religious themes from the bible. His painting style is passionate, coarse and very expressive like for instance in his painting The Dance Round the Golden Calf. Nolde was concerned with primitive art and wrote a book about it - Kunst�usserungen der Naturvolker.
His membership in the NSDAP, the Nazi party, did not protect him from being banned as a degenerated artist and in 1941 he was disallowed to paint. Nolde secretly painted watercolors in small formats.
After the war Emil Nolde received a number of public honors and in 1952 he was awarded the prize for painting at the Venice Biennale.
Erich Heckel was one of the founding members of the The Bridge. His art style was less radical compared to the other members. He had a vivid interest in printmaking. His graphic works consist of woodcuts, lithographs and etchings.
Heckel survived World War I and the Nazi persecution. But in 1944 his Berlin studio was destroyed during a bombing raid and a substantial part of his works including all his woodcut blocks were lost forever. After World War II Erich Heckel taught at the Art Academy of Karlsruhe from 1949 to 1955. Heckel died in 1970 as an honored and leading member of German Expressionism.
Max Pechstein was born as the son of a factory worker. He started his career as an apprentice for interior decoration and later in 1902 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden. Max Pechstein is best known for paintings and graphic works showing nudes at lake-sides. From 1923 until his dismissal in 1933 he worked at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. During the war years he moved to rural Pomerania trying to show a low profile. In 1945 he returned to Berlin to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts.
Schmitt is one of the most common names in Germany like Smith in English. Certainly not a very exciting name for an artist. So Karl Schmidt added the name of the village, Rottluff, where he was born to his name. Schmidt-Rottluff created about 660 graphic works - woodcuts, lithographs and drypoints mostly in black and white.
Schmidt-Rottluff was excluded from the Prussian Academy in 1933. In spite of a ban in 1941 on performing his profession as an artist, he survived the Third Reich. After the war Schmidt-Rottluff worked as a professor at the Berlin High School of Fine Art. In 1967 a museum devoted exclusively to the art of The Bridge was opened in Berlin. Schmidt-Rottluff was the driving force behind the foundation of the Brucke Museum.
Otto Muller learned lithography as an apprentice from 1890 to 1894. From 1894 to 1896 he studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts and later in 1898 at the Munich Academy. In 1899 Otto Muller had to leave the Munich Academy - thrown out by Franz von Stuck, one of the professors and a dominant traditional painter of his time.
Characteristic for the style of Otto Muller are scenes with naked gypsy girls. Otto Muller even lived with the gypsies for some time. He admired their life style for being in harmony with nature. In 1927 a series of color lithographs, titled Die Zigeuner Mappe, was published. Among the artists of The Bridge his works are similar to those of Max Pechstein.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
(October 2001, updated November 2009)
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