German sculpture and painting of our century, like that of earlier periods, has many points of connection with the art of neighboring countries, especially France, and in recent times there has been almost as close a relationship to the art of England and Italy. This association, sometimes tight and sometimes loose, does not, however, have a leveling effect. In the world of form, too, each of the important nations in the field of art possesses its own language and its own development, since in each case the suppositions and traditions have been diverse. It is a fact of German twentieth-century sculpture that despite its manifold interweaving with the sculpture of other nations, it has gone its own way and has its own cachet without being provincial. It is European and German at the same time.
The most important representatives of German sculpture have been known in the United States for a long time, better known than in any other country outside of Germany. Even before World War I, the first works of Georg Kolbe had reached America, and after the war many others followed, thanks especially to the efforts of William R. Valentiner.
Gradually a considerable number of the sculptures of Ernst Barlach crossed the Atlantic, and Wilhelm Lehmbruck's art is not represented so impressively in any German museum today as it is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The works of these sculptors, like those of the leading contemporary German master Gerhard Marcks, were introduced into the United States principally by Curt Valentin, the art-lover and dealer, who originally came from Germany.
The present exhibition, comprising twenty works of German sculpture covering half a century, can show only some of the main relationships and high points. This historical survey will have to adduce a rather more extensive selection of material in illustrations, in order to fill in at least partially the connecting links between the isolated examples.
The beginning of the new German sculpture is marked by the great figures of Barlach and Lehmbruck. But in order to understand their work and their special contribution in their historical context, it will be well to learn something of the preceding situation of sculpture in Germany.
Around 1900 there were three main official trends in German sculpture, which had a wide impact by reason of the sheer volume of civic monuments and public commissions given out by Kaiser Wilhelm's states and the several other principalities and cities; but the artistic importance of these tendencies is very dubious.