Art Term

Expressionism

Expressionism refers to art in which the image of reality is distorted in order to make it expressive of the artist’s inner feelings or ideas

Wassily Kandinsky, ‘Cossacks’ 1910–1
Wassily Kandinsky
Cossacks 1910–1
Tate
Oskar Kokoschka, ‘Polperro II’ 1939
Oskar Kokoschka
Polperro II 1939
Tate
© Tate
Edvard Munch, ‘The Sick Child’ 1907
Edvard Munch
The Sick Child 1907
Tate
Georges Rouault, ‘The Italian Woman’ 1938
Georges Rouault
The Italian Woman 1938
Tate
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017
Ernst Barlach, ‘The Avenger’ 1914, later cast
Ernst Barlach
The Avenger 1914, later cast
Tate
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, ‘Woman with a Bag’ 1915
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
Woman with a Bag 1915
Tate
© DACS, 2017
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, ‘Bathers at Moritzburg’ 1909–26
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Bathers at Moritzburg 1909–26
Tate
Paul Klee, ‘They’re Biting’ 1920
Paul Klee
They’re Biting 1920
Tate

In expressionist art, colour in particular can be highly intense and non-naturalistic, brushwork is typically free and paint application tends to be generous and highly textured. Expressionist art tends to be emotional and sometimes mystical. It can be seen as an extension of Romanticism.

Although the term expressionist can be applied to artworks from any era, it is generally applied to art of the twentieth century. It may be said to start with Vincent Van Gogh and then form a major stream of modern art embracing, among many others, Edvard Munch, fauvism and Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, the Brücke and Blaue Reiter groups, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee, Max Beckmann, most of Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer and the neo-expressionism of the 1980s.

The term is often specifically associated with modern German art (also referred to as German expressionism), particularly the Brücke and Blaue Reiter groups.

After World War II an abstract form of expressionism developed in America, known as abstract expressionism.

See all artworks