Featuring powerful expression, intense colours and often coarse brushwork, Expressionism was above all about conveying emotion as directly and authentically as possible. Kunstmuseum Den Haag’s collection includes a number of Expressionist highlights, including Wassily Kandinsky’s Painting with White Form, Kirchner’s fiery Czardas Dancers and Egon Schiele’s unparalleled, intimate portrait of his wife Edith.

New era

In the early twentieth century Europe experienced rapid change. The technological and scientific advances made in the previous decades were having a growing impact on society. The modern age had dawned and artists were seeking new ways to reflect this. In their quest for original, authentic modes of expression, they drew inspiration from children’s drawings and the primitive images produced by the indigenous peoples of Africa and Oceania. Old painting traditions were abandoned and replaced by a method of working directly from emotion, generally using intense colours. Artists no longer needed to produce a recognisable representation of reality. A face could now be green, or a tree blue. This attitude laid the foundations for the modern art of the twentieth century.

Die Brücke & Der Blaue Reiter

In the first decade of the twentieth century German Expressionism developed in two key centres: Die Brücke in Dresden, with artists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde and Karl Schmidt Rottluff, and Der Blaue Reiter in Munich, which included among its ranks Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, August Macke, Paul Klee and Heinrich Campendonk. There are many similarities between these two groups of artists, though only the latter eventually produced an abstract style of painting, as practised by the Russian Wassily Kandinsky. In 2010 the Kunstmuseum staged a major exhibition on Der Blaue Reiter and Kandinsky’s leading role in the group.

Expressionism at Kunstmuseum Den Haag

The museum has been collecting graphic works by German Expressionists since the 1920s. In 1928 Egon Schiele’s portrait of Edith – a highlight of Austrian Expressionism – was added to the collection. A number of important paintings were purchased after the Second World War, including Kirchner’s Czardas Dancers (1908-1920), Max Pechstein’s Landscape near Dangast (1913), Three Girls in Yellow Straw Hats (1913) by August Macke, Heinrich Campendonk’s Self-portrait (1912) and Head of a Woman (c. 1911) by Alexej von Jawlensky. Along with works by Emil Nolde, Paula Modersohn Becker, Karl Schmidt Rottluff and Wassily Kandinsky, these paintings constitute the most important collection of German Expressionism in the Netherlands.

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