Analysis of Nudity in German Expressionism

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The visual representation of the human form has a history back to the cave paintings and beyond. As art developed through the Renaissance almost all painting followed convention – perspective of one point with nudes clearly from a one person view that is detached from the scene of the picture. The experimental work from the late 19th Century onward changed this perspective as the artists began to express introspection about the subject. Cubism and its representation of an object from all angles led German Expressionism to find the essence of subject from more than one approach. The French theoretician and critic Roger de Piles described ‘expression’ in 1708: “la pensée du cœur humain” – the thought of the human heart. He explained what the German painters 200 years on would embody. This essay attempts to contextualize the nakedness of the body in German Expressionism, through the analysis of three works and their influencing historical factors. The human form has been a key subject in art since the beginning of time, but the way in which the German Expressionists used it as part of a direct self-expression of form and colour; as part of a idealized notion of a society gone back to it’s roots; and finally as a reaction and outcome of the deeply dehumanising First World War shows the imbalance of spirit and physicality as reaction to societal changes. It will attempt to argue that the art of Germany in it’s most turbulent history expressed a whole truth about the human essence and how totally debilitating the effect of war can be on it.

The history of Western art is replete with the naked human body. The nude has been used to idealise, to romanticize and to philosophise about human existence since the Ancient Greeks. Plato’s id...

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... army. The shower also reminds of a halo of spirit around the soldiers – they seem under the protection of a celestial light. These men are completely naked in the the most embarrassing sense – the unencumbered primitive man is gone and replaced by a fearful and dehumanized group.

Kirchner’s Artillery Men is a superb example of the idea that the men are naked not nude. The spiritual essence that marks the delight of past painting are a replaced with the men becoming a vehicle from human suffering. The nervous difficult brushstrokes embody the world he lived in and personifies his inner state of unrest. Kirchner had a strong desire for self knowledge and comprehension of human existence, and the experience he had in the army severely changed his views. A parallel with existential philosophy can be drawn with the fear of death clearly pervading the men’s space.
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