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Die Brücke (The Bridge) was a group of German expressionist artists formed in Dresden in 1905. The Brücke Museum in Berlin was named after the group. Founding members were Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Later members were Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, and Otto Mueller .
Die Brücke is sometimes compared to Fauvism. Both movements shared interests in primitivist art. Both shared an interest in the expressing of extreme emotion through high-keyed color that was very often non-naturalistic. Both movements employed a drawing technique that was crude, and both groups shared an antipathy to complete abstraction. The Die Brücke artists' emotionally agitated paintings of city streets and sexually charged events transpiring in country settings make their French counterparts, the Fauves, seem tame by comparison.
Shared Roots in Architecture
The founding members of Die Brücke in 1905 were four Jugendstil architecture students: Fritz Bleyl (1880–1966), Erich Heckel (1883–1970), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884–1976). They met through the Königliche Technische Hochschule (technical university) of Dresden, where Kirchner and Bleyl began studying in 1901 and became close friends in their first term. They discussed art together and also studied nature, sharing a radical outlook.
Die Brücke aimed to eschew the prevalent traditional academic style and find a new mode of artistic expression, which would form a bridge (hence the name) between the past and the present. They responded both to past artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder, as well as contemporary international avant-garde movements. As part of the affirmation of their national heritage, they revived older media, particularly woodcut prints.
The group developed a common style based on vivid color, emotional tension, violent imagery, and an influence from primitivism. After first concentrating exclusively on urban subject matter, the group ventured into southern Germany on expeditions arranged by Mueller and produced more nudes and arcadian images. They invented the printmaking technique of linocut, although they at first described them as traditional woodcuts, which they also made.
Attempts to Reject Bourgeois Backgrounds
The group members initially "isolated" themselves in a working-class neighborhood of Dresden, aiming thereby to reject their own bourgeois backgrounds. Erich Heckel was able to obtain an empty butcher's shop on the Berlinerstrasse in Friedrichstadt for their use as a studio.The group composed a manifesto (mostly Kirchner's work), which was carved on wood and asserted a new generation, "who want freedom in our work and in our lives, independence from older, established forces. " In September and October 1906, the first group exhibition was held, focused on the female nude, in the showroom of K.F.M. Seifert and Co. in Dresden.
Between 1907 and 1911, Brücke members spent summers at the Moritzburg lakes and on the island of Fehmarn . In 1913, Kirchner wrote Chronik der Brücke (Brücke chronicle), which led to the ending of the group.
In 1933, Kirchner was labelled a "degenerate artist" by the Nazis and asked for his resignation from the Berlin Academy of Arts; in 1937, over 600 of his works were confiscated from public museums in Germany and were sold or destroyed. In 1938, the psychological trauma of these events, along with the Nazi occupation of Austria, close to his home, led to his suicide.