Neue Sachlichkeit 1918-33: Unity and Diversity of an Art Movement

Neue Sachlichkeit 1918-33: Unity and Diversity of an Art Movement

Neue Sachlichkeit 1918-33: Unity and Diversity of an Art Movement

Neue Sachlichkeit 1918-33: Unity and Diversity of an Art Movement

Synopsis

"Neue Sachlichkeit is thought by many to have too many diverse elements to be a unified movement. Originally divided by G.F. Hartlaub into two 'wings', Neue Sachlichkeit has since been broken down by critics into more groups, sometimes with opposing styles or regional influences. However, the importance of these divisions has rarely been explored in depth. Unlike previous surveys, which accept Neue Sachlichkeit as a divided entity, this book shows for the first time that in spite of its divisions, it may still be regarded as a unified, coherent movement." "While different artists may have sought to express different specific concerns, what they all had in common was that they were uncomfortable with the world as it stood, and it is the way that this was expressed, making use of the object, that gave Neue Sachlichkeit its unity. This was just as true of the literature and photography of Neue Sachlichkeit, where the same themes as those found in the painting were frequently used. The fact that these are shared themes across different cultural media demonstrates that Neue Sachlichkeit reflected a mood of its time, and this book explores the ways in which this mood was expressed."

Excerpt

The art of Neue Sachlichkeit responded to and reflected in many ways the social and political events, trends and forces of its time. There are, for example, a number of themes from the Great War and the Weimar Republic which can be found in the work of Neue Sachlichkeit artists. The fact that so many of these artists were involved in, or directly affected by, the events of the period, is an indication that a certain kind of unity may exist as a result of these shared experiences, which was later reflected in the works of art. To this end, the experiences of three representative artists are included: Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Max Beckmann.

A brief look at the war is useful in as far as it provides the background to what several of the artists of Neue Sachlichkeit must have gone through during the early years of their adult lives, and as such may be seen as influential. Most of the artists who feature in this book were in their late teens or early twenties when they found themselves involved in what is widely acknowledged to be one of the most destructive conflicts of all time. The numbers of casualties from individual battles highlight well enough the terrible conditions these young men were forced to endure; approximately one million men were killed or wounded in the Battle of Verdun, while 600,000 Allied troops lost their lives at the Somme, and almost half a million in total were killed or wounded at Passchendaele. As if living with death and wounding on this scale were not harsh enough, the troops had to adjust to the appalling living and fighting conditions of trench warfare. Walter Limmer, a law student from Leipzig, wrote of the Battle of the Marne in 1914: ‘Immer noch wütet diese fürchterliche Schlacht, nun schon den vierten Tag! Bis jetzt bestand sie, wie fast jedes Gefecht in diesem Krieg, beinahe nur in [sic] furchtbaren Artilleriekämpfen. – Diesen Brief schreibe ich in einem grabartigen, etwa 40 cm tiefen, selbstgeschaufelten Lager der Schützenlinie.’ (‘This ghastly battle is still raging – for the fourth day! Up till now, like most battles in this war, it has consisted almost entirely of an appalling artillery duel. I am writing this letter in a sort of grave-like hole which I dug for myself in the firing line.) Otto Dix’s painting, Flandern (Flanders) (1934–36) presents a visual example of such conditions, which he knew from personal experience. He had enlisted voluntarily when the war broke out, and trained as a machine-gunner before seeing action at Champagne in 1915 and 1916, then at the Somme and at the Russian Front. He was awarded the 2 Class Iron Cross, and was once wounded in the neck. He was training to be an airman when the war came to an end. He had entered the war with a spirit of wanting to be a part of everything. ‘Der Krieg war eine scheußliche Sache, aber trotzdem etwas Gewaltiges. Das durfte ich auf keinen Fall versäumen. Man muß den Menschen in diesem entfesselten Zustand gesehen haben, um etwas über den Menschen zu wissen.’ (‘The war was horrible, but nevertheless gigantic. I couldn’t afford to miss that. You have to see the human being in this

Kriegsbriefe gefallener Studenten, ed. by Philip Witkop (Munich: Georg Müller, 1928), p.8. Translated in Winter and Baggett, 1914–18, (see note 6), p.80.

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