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Crossing Die Brücke

Words:

Edd Norval
June 18, 2021

Die Brücke translates as ‘The Bridge’ from German and is the name given to a group of turn-of-the-century artists who utilised bright colours and semi-abstracted forms to create emotionally impactful art that paved the way for the oncoming foundation of Expressionism. This is their story.

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Just as every superhero has an origin story, so too do artistic and social movements the world over. Whilst Die Brücke might be the origin story for expressionism, it also has one of its own and it starts in Dresden in 1905 with four architecture students studying the Jugendstil style - a highly decorative style that put a German twist on the European art nouveau. 


In the students' minds, Die Brücke symbolised the bridge towards a new future for art, where disciplines could coalesce just as they had done in their educational institution. Approaching architecture requires a multidisciplinary mindset. One must be an artist and an engineer - with a desire to create as well as calculate. A great idea and strong concept is one thing, manifesting it into something in real-life is something else entirely. 


Alongside their concept of a movement influenced by many disciplines, they also envisaged something inspired by the past, present and future. None should be completely ignored, less a fractured form of art emerges. In this sense, we could consider the movement disruptive, yet respectfully so. It was a youth movement that hoped for something radical, but not without respecting that which came before.

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It was also radical in a recognisable way, at least when it came to the form their works took. The movement was against the total abstraction of things, as was beginning to emerge in other movements around the world. Their future was one that people could relate to. Having relativity in there was crucial for many reasons and one way for them to make something that resonated deeply with their audience was by focussing on primitive art, the raw, vaguely violent imagery that permeated the earliest documented paintings. 


Alongside this, the young group drew on their own German heritage, resurrecting dying forms of art like woodcut printing and then giving it something new by using the more malleable and ‘neater’ lino - a popular technique now, but one attributed to them. Reinventing was one of Die Brücke’s all-encompassing concepts and it was never more important than the reinvention of themselves, for through themselves they could reinvent creatively.  

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The core of the group were relatively middle-class, but chose to reject their familial status by isolating themselves in working-class neighborhoods of Dresden to absorb the same energy they got from the primitive art that they so adored. This might sound exactly like every hipster in every major city around the world, but this was quite a bit before that, when suits were commonly worn in comfortable surroundings, contrasting with the unpredictable and lawless chaos that could be found in the working-class areas they chose to operate. 


Claiming in their manifesto that they were a group ‘who want freedom in our work and in our lives, independence from older, established forces,’ the rebellious spirit of youth took on a true sense of Bohemian artistry - complete with top hat and monocle, a pioneering spirit largely confined to the past, when the world was still full of raw materials, as yet uncharted. In their willingness to embrace the past as equal with the future, this group of young students help to shift the trajectory of art forever.

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