Revisiting German Expressionism

Max Beckmann’s drypoint Holzbrücke is among the German Expressionist works in our March 5 auction.
Our March 5 auction of 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings features an exceptionally strong selection of German Expressionist works. This misunderstood period is now being reexamined through exhibitions at the Neue Galerie and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The auction includes notable prints and drawings by Max Beckmann, Lovis Corinth, Lyonel Feininger, Erich Heckel, Wassily Kandinsky, Käthe Kollwitz, Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein, as well as artists associated with the movement, such as Edvard Munch and Paul Klee. Like their French counterparts, the German Expressionists rejected the naturalistic style accepted by the academy, taking on a darker aesthetic in light of impending political and military upheaval. 

Printmaking was especially attractive to the Expressionists who looked to Schongauer and Dürer, the 15th and 16th century German pioneers of the medium, and to Medieval German aesthetics and techniques. In the years following World War I, inflation spurred print demand in Germany as a more affordable means of art collecting. Production decreased as the Nazi party rose to power and condemned Modernism, destroying much of what Expressionist artists had created, thereby contributing to the scarcity of many of their works.

Lot 473: Feininger’s Die Grüne Brücke, etching, 1910-11,
clearly pays homage to German Old Masters.


Lyonel Feininger’s 1910-11 etching Die Grüne Brücke (lot 473,) reflects Expressionist interest in urban life. This etching was based on Feininger’s 1909 oil painting and was completed just as the group Der Blaue Reiter came together in Munich. The painting incorporates Feininger’s characteristic experimentation with color with a striking green, providing the work its title, i.e. The Green Bridgeand the choice to create an etching of the same subject indicates the importance of the work.
Lot 448: Nolde’s Diskussion, color lithograph on Japan paper, 1913,
one of only six impressions to come to auction in the past 30 years.
Expressionist artists such as Emil Nolde also utilized lithography to experiment with color. Nolde, who was associated with the group Die Brücke in Dresden, printed his 1913 color lithograph Diskussion (lot 448) yellow and beige, as seen in the March 5 auction, but also in red. Diskussion is similar to Nolde’s 1915 painting Die Zinsmünze(The Tribute Money), and depicts a scene in which Jesus and Peter are asked to pay taxes. Expressionists often used bible scenes to incorporate spirituality into their art during tumultuous times.
Lot 423: Kandinsky’s Radierung für den Piper-verlag, drypoint, 1924, rarely appears at auction.
Wassily Kandinsky’s scarce drypoint, Radierung für den Piper-verlag, 1924 (lot 423), reflects Expressionism’s turn towards abstraction. Kandinsky is widely accepted as the originator of truly abstract works such as this 1924 drypoint. The print was created during the artist’s tenure at the Weimar Bauhaus, where Walter Gropius encouraged avant-garde printmaking as a means of expression. The etching’s publisher, Piper Verlag, also published Der Blaue Reiter‘s Almanac in 1912.