Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


The term was “expressionism” applied to drama, the visual arts, and literature. Different from the so-called post-Impressionists, this movement grew out of anti-Impressionist tendencies developing from around 1905. Mostly, Expressionism flourished in Germany from 1909 to 1923. The idea here is that the artist impresses his or her own temperament on a view of the world rather than recording an impression of the world around him or her. Color and line were used symbolically; emphasis was on subjective emotions with exaggerated imagery. The Germans were usually darker, expressing inner turmoil in the face of an uncaring or uncomprehending world.

Emil Nolde. Prophet. 1912. Woodcut, comp.: 12 5/8″ x 8 3/4″.
This brooding face confronts the viewer with an immediacy and deep emotion that leave no doubt about the prophet’s spirituality. His hollow eyes, furrowed brow, sunken cheeks, and solemn countenance express his innermost feelings. Three years before Nolde executed this print, he had experienced a religious transformation while recovering from an illness. Following this episode, he began depicting religious subjects in paintings and prints, such as the image seen here.

Nolde had joined the German Expressionist group Brücke (Bridge) in 1906, participating in its exhibitions and in its exchange of ideas and techniques. He taught etching to his fellow members, and they introduced him to woodcuts. During the 1890s, woodcuts had undergone a resurgence and revamping, when artists such as Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch used them to create bold images that expressed strong emotional content. In Prophet, Nolde also exploits the characteristics inherent to the medium. Coarsely gouged-out areas, jagged lines, and the textured grain of the wood effectively combine in this portrayal of a fervent believer — a quintessential German Expressionist print.

Egon Schiele (1890-1918). Nude Girl with Crossed Arms. 1910.
Schiele was influenced by Art Nouveau and Klimt, but obviously more given to expressing despair, loneliness, angst, and … eroticism (?!). His work was controversial because of its raw sexuality — many works were confiscated and burned. In 1912 he was briefly imprisoned on pornographic charges (children could see his work). He’s known for his aggressive nervous line and tortured nudes both erotic and repulsive.

Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980). Bride of the Wind (The Tempest). 1914.
This piece depicts the passionate intensity of his relationship with Alma Mahler, widow of the composer. Their affair was foundering by the time this work was completed.

Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.