Numerous avant-garde art movements emerged in Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century. Painters of Die Brücke (The Bridge) were the first to focus on the power of color. The Bauhaus developed a color theory for modern art. Later, following World War II, color was seen as a means of artist self-expression. During the Third Reich, these artists were ostracized, but in spite of this their work shaped the history of art in the twentieth century.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, groups of young European artists banded together in opposition to conventional art as practiced by the academies. Painters in the artist association Die Brücke, founded in 1905 in Dresden, focused on liberating form and color to express themselves “directly and authentically”, as they wrote in their manifesto. In 1906, Emil Nolde became a member of the group for one year since he was also interested in brilliant, pure colors, animated brushstrokes, and primitivism. The consistent application of these techniques led to German Expressionism.
Avant-garde artist groups promoted new artistic concepts. For Wassily Kandinsky, who was a co-founder of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artists’ Association) and later the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), each artist’s individual spiritual perception utilized form and color to address viewers. His paintings reflect the development from Expressionism to abstract art. After Die Brücke disbanded in 1913, the style of its members developed independently of one another. Max Pechstein, a member of Die Brücke from 1906 to 1912, established himself after World War I as a landscape painter.
The November Group was founded in Berlin in 1918. Along with Max Pechstein, its members included Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger, and Willi Baumeister. They discussed founding a new school. The purpose was to continue the traditions of the Deutsche Werkbund and its workshops in Weimar. In 1919, Walter Gropius founded the Staatliche Bauhaus as an art school. With its combination of art, handcrafts, and architecture, the school’s purpose was to solve future social and ethical challenges. The teachers had forceful personalities and different artistic objectives who worked together to achieve the goals of the school.
During the Third Reich, modern art was ostracized in Germany. After World War II, the Art Informel movement gained momentum. Its artistic principle was non-representational and non-geometric abstraction. In 1949, Willi Baumeister, a spokesman for abstract art, and Bauhaus student Fritz Winter founded the Gruppe der Ungegenständlichen in Munich, which they renamed ZEN 49 one year later. The artistic goal was a direct painting process and the unification of painting and nature which was based on the reception of Zen Buddhism.