Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Self-Portrait, 1949 © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Erich Heckel, Man in his Younger Years (Self-Portrait), 1906 © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2019/Nachlass Erich Heckel, Hemmenhofen

Artists’ Group Brücke

The group of expressionist artists named Brücke was founded in Dresden on 7 June 1905 and dissolved in Berlin on 27 May 1913. Its founding members, the architecture students Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Fritz Bleyl, were self-taught and aimed to revolutionise art together. They were seeking immediate forms of expression far from the academic tradition of painting, and new ways of living and working beyond bourgeois conventions. Brücke’s ‘call to arms’ of 1906 demonstrates this spirit:

“With faith in evolution, in a new generation of creators and appreciators, we call upon all young people to rally. And as young people, who embody the future, we want to free our lives and limbs from the long-established powers of old. Anyone who realises his creative drive directly and genuinely is one of us.”

Erich Heckel, Brücke 1910 EL Kirchner – Kneeling Nudes (cover for the fifth annual portfolio of the Brücke artists’ group), 1910, Karl und Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Stiftung © Nachlass Erich Heckel, Hemmenhofen

In painting, the common style of the group was characterised by an animated, expressive brushstroke and, above all, pure, intense colours. Many of these works were preceded by drawings, which were pioneering in their immediacy. Using methods such as the so-called Viertelstundenakte (fifteen-minute drawings), the Brücke artists quickly captured what they saw in their studio or in nature. As an exhibition community, the artists organised around eighty exhibitions during the group’s existence – many of which toured to various German cities. In addition, they marketed themselves and created promotional art, such as catalogues, invitations and posters. These could be quickly reproduced as printed graphic works. The revival of the woodcut, a medium rarely used at the time, also enabled Brücke to inscribe itself artistically into an old German tradition. The members actively solicited sponsors and collectors who supported the group financially as so-called passive members. In return for their contribution, these members received an annual portfolio of graphic works by the artists. Brücke also strived to network with international artists and to recruit new members. After Bleyl resigned as early as 1907, Heckel, Kirchner and Schmidt-Rottluff formed the firm core of the artist group. They were joined by the following artists: Max Pechstein (1906), Cuno Amiet (1906), Emil Nolde (1906), Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1907), Kees van Dongen (1908), Franz Nölken (1908), Otto Mueller (1910) und Bohumil Kubišta (1911). Some were members for only a short time, while others remained members until the group dissolved.

In 1911, Brücke relocated to Berlin, where the impressions of the big city led its members to develop more individualistic styles. Pechstein left the group in 1912. The chronicle Chronik KG Brücke was intended to demonstrate the unity of the remaining members, both internally, amongst themselves, and externally to their public. However, the joint work on writing the Chronik led to conflicts and in 1913 to the final dissolution of the group.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self Portrait with Hat, 1905

Max Pechstein, Self-Portrait with Cigar, 1909 © Pechstein Hamburg/Tökendorf