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Expressionism

Approximate Dates 1920 to 1950
Style Definition
Expressionism was a style in the Western arts which straddled the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Until the 19th century, the arts had been principally concerned with the depiction of reality, and artists used emotion--their own or their subject's--as one component of expression and not its guarantor. Expressionist art, by contrast, dealt directly with the transmission of emotion. It was subjective and incoherent rather than objective and precise. The urge towards the overt expression of feeling began with the Romantic movement at the end of the 18th century, but true expressionism was only liberated a century later, when Freud's work made complexes, neuroses and private obsessions acceptable subjects for polite study and for the arts.

In architecture, expressionism was identified with the works of architects in Germany, Holland and Scandinavia from the end of World War I until the 1920s. The expressionist buildings are characterized by unusual angular or organic forms and internal volumes, to some extent made possible by the imaginative use of reinforced concrete. The historian Pevsner saw the style as a deviation from the development of the Modernist movement, working under the influence of Art Nouveau in the political crisis following World War I. The prewar work most closely identified with expressionism is probably that of Peter Behrens (1868 - 1940), particularly his factories for A.E.G. in Berlin (1908-1913), and certainly the postwar work of Bauhaus, during the Weimar period, is felt to have absorbed the principal features of expressionism, visually the stark expressive simplicity and theoretically a sense of architecture's ethical obligation, as a tool for raising social standards. The best-known examples of postwar expressionist architecture are the Chilehaus in Hamburg of 1923, the work of , Fritz Hoeger (1877 - 1949) and the interior of the Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin of 1919 by , Hans Poelzig (1869 - 1936). Perhaps one of the most striking of all buildings in the expressionist idiom was an early work of , Erich Mendelson (1887 - 1953), the 'Einstenurm', an observatory tower, built at Potsdam in 1920, an organic form with a motif of streamlining which was to become so important in Western industrial design.