Die Brücke: Portraits and the Nude


Connected to the movement in the early twentieth century to “return to nature” was the representation of nudes by the German Expressionists. At the turn of the century, Germany erupted with nudist colonies, emerging “from a desire to reunite the nude with nature”. Though the nude had long been a popular subject in art, Die Brücke treated the subject without any of the delicacy and softness previously applied. Without the Classical or biblical imagery traditionally associated with nudes in art, the painting and prints of Die Brücke took on sexual or erotic undertones.


The above contemporary work shows a difference in approach from the artists of Die Brücke. In the works of Die Brücke, the nude is nearly always a woman, shown either alone or with other nude women. But in the twenty-first century, nudes are often shown as couples. Here, the embracing couple suggests that in the twenty-first century, nudity is not solely equated with primitive humanity and a return to nature. Instead we see intimacy, a naked honesty which Die Brücke attempted to represent in other facets of their work. For this contemporary artist, nudity exemplifies a non-erotic intimacy and sensuality that may be interpreted as being in direct contrast to the rough-hewn lines of the woodblock.

nude3On the other hand, the roughness wood lends to a print can also, like in Brücke prints, heighten sense of violence sometimes associated with nudes. The above print, for example, depicts not only a sexual representation of a nude couple, but depicts the act of sex in itself. The contrast of the black with the white and of the blood red ink (which the artist noted stayed glossy and wet-looking) heightens this tension, and gives the centered composition an energy which makes the image leap off the page.


The Brücke artists, in their obsessive search for authenticity and directness, printed portraits “with the intent to reveal their subject’s innermost essence”. Contemporary printmakers often approach portraits with even more expression. The aim is to create a likeness that is recognizable and at the same time illustrates that person’s life or spirit. In the self portrait above, the viewer immediately comprehends a darkness. This is seen in both in the literal sense, that the print is cut in white line and that the paper picks up a large amount of black ink, and in a figurative sense. The smoke from the subject’s cigarette swirls into the it form of what is either a siren or a man being thrown from a boat. His decaying skeleton arm reaches for a glass of wine as he stares vacantly past the viewer. His tattoo bears a record of him having mixed up his art and his own self-destruction. The viewer immediately understands what the artist’s current state is, just from these visual cues.


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