In 1933, Germany's Third Reich mounted a campaign against art and artists who were antipathetic to its ideology. This attempt to control artistic production and presentation effectively outlawed the work of all artists' organizations other than the official Reichskulturkammer (National Chamber of Culture). Most severely sanctioned were the artists of the Expressionist movements of the first three decades of the century. Forced from their teaching positions, forbidden to create or exhibit their art, many left in exile, closing a chapter on German art that was born of a belief in the indominability of the human spirit.
Conceived, in part, as a confrontation with the techniques and naturalist subject matter of the Impressionists, and as a means to join forces against academic restrictions, the Expressionist movement grew through the creation of small, sympathetic artists' coalitions. The paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, exhibited in Germany after his death in 1890, and the art of Edvard Munch, who moved to Berlin in 1892, were important references for young artists who saw in their rejection of impressionist styles and their depiction of personal experiences the means to convey higher emotions in art.
The current exhibition surveys the artists whose work, it can be argued, was ultimately unable to convince its viewers of the value of freedom of expression. While concentrated on German art, it also includes examples by those who influenced it, such as Munch, or kept pace with it outside Germany, such as Oscar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. In the latter's four drawings of 1916-1917, anxiety and hope coexist in an uneasy reflection of a society that could not imagine the corporal and spiritual devastation that was to follow. Determined to search behind the veils of appearances for the hidden aspects of nature, the Expressionists revealed social and political struggles as well as artistic and personal aspirations.