Updated: Nov 25

Edvard Munch Year1893 Oil, tempera, pastel, and crayon on cardboard, Dimensions 91 cm × 73.5 cm (36 in × 28.9 in) National Gallery and Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway
Edvard Munch Year1893

Expressionism is an artistic style in which the artist expresses not the objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse within a person.

The word “Expressionism” is believed to have originated from Antonin Matejcek, an art historian, who created the term to indicate the complete reverse of Impressionism.

Although the Impressionists used to produce art related to the physical body, the artists of Expressionist paintings, as per Matejcek’s words, used paint to convey solely inner life, frequently via the depiction of brutal and harsh topics.

The tendency towards Expressionism in Van Gogh's post-impressionistic artworks like "The Potato Eaters, Portrait of Père Tanguy, L'Arlésienne, At Eternity's Gate" is obvious.

At Eternity's Gate, Artist Vincent van GoghYear1890 Medium Oil on canvas Dimensions 80 cm × 64 cm Location Kröller-Müller Museum
At Eternity's Gate, Artist Vincent van Gogh Year1890 Medium Oil on canvas

In Van Gogh's painting above we see one of the early beginnings of expressionism, which focuses on painting feelings, with remarkably spontaneous Brushstrokes, while realistic color tones are not the challenge for the artist.

Expressionism was a dominant style in Germany in the years immediately following World War I, where it suited the postwar atmosphere of cynicism, alienation, and disillusionment.

artists used the expressive possibilities of color and line to explore dramatic and emotion-laden themes and to convey the qualities of fear, horror, and other human feelings.

Expressionists used jagged, distorted lines; rough, rapid brushwork; and jarring colors to depict urban street scenes and other contemporary subjects in crowded, agitated compositions notable for their instability and their emotionally charged atmosphere.

The Night (1918-19) by Max Beckmann
The Night (1918-19) by Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann was a German painter, writer, and sculptor who was known for the dramatized nightlife, and mythical or biblical scenes in his work. Although he is broadly labeled as an expressionist painter, he rejected the movement and denied being a part of it. Beckmann often depicted his own face in his work, which can be identified by a frowning face with a large head.

The Night was a product of the Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity movement, which was established as an anti-expressionist rebellion. The piece features sharp angles and chaotic, overlapping figures as an expression of Beckmann’s disenchantment with life in postwar Germany. The piece portrays gruesome elements of sex, death, and violence, drawing attention to the overstimulation and obscenity of modern society.

Kheder modern Expressionist, The Three Preachers 70 cm x 90 cm
Kheder modern Expressionist, The Three Preachers 70 cm x 90 cm

Expressionism as an art movement can be very broad and difficult to characterize. It spans different countries, mediums, movements, and periods. Expressionist art was therefore not defined by a set of aesthetic principles, but rather as a tool of expression and societal commentary.


when you grab a pencil and start to draw from the heart, exerting your emotions on a piece of paper, you are doing expressionism.

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