New Objectivity Movement Is Introduced Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

New Objectivity, an artistic and literary trend in Germany that repudiated abstraction, succeeded expressionism in the 1920’s and lasted until 1932. Its artists often produced bleak, satirical works that reflected the tensions of the times.

Summary of Event

In 1923, Gustav Hartlaub, Hartlaub, Gustav the newly appointed director of the Mannheim museum, planned an exhibition to chart the realistic trend in postwar painting. The exhibition, titled New Objectivity: German Painting Since Expressionism, however, did not take place until 1925. Hartlaub used the term Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) to differentiate this style from the subjective and abstract tendencies of expressionism. His aim was to exhibit the works of “those artists who have remained—or who have once more become—avowedly faithful to positive, tangible reality.” Among the artists most fully represented in the 1925 Mannheim show were Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Alexander Kanoldt, Georg Scholz, and Georg Schrimpf. The art historian Franz Roh Roh, Franz also noted the return to representational painting in his influential book Nach-Expressionismus, magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten Europäischen Malerei (1925; postexpressionism, magic realism: problems of the newest European painting). Nach-Expressionismus, magischer Realismus (Roh)[Nachexpressionismus, magischer Realismus (Roh)] Roh used the term “magic realism” to distinguish the new realism from the earlier, nineteenth century style of realism exhibited by the artists Hans Thoma and Wilhelm Leibl. For Roh, magic realism also suggested a connection with French Surrealism and with the work of the Italian artist Giorgio De Chirico, whose precisely rendered paintings of vacuous mannequins in ambiguous spatial settings evoked a sense of mystery. [kw]New Objectivity Movement Is Introduced (1925) [kw]Objectivity Movement Is Introduced, New (1925) New Objectivity Art movements;New Objectivity Magic realism [g]Germany;1925: New Objectivity Movement Is Introduced[06250] [c]Arts;1925: New Objectivity Movement Is Introduced[06250] Dix, Otto Grosz, George Beckmann, Max Scholz, Georg Schrimpf, Georg Kanoldt, Alexander

Hartlaub noted that there were two different aspects of the realist trend and divided the movement into two wings. He assigned the artists Dix, Grosz, Beckmann, and Scholz to a socially critical wing that he called verism, and the Italianate-inspired German artists such as Kanoldt and Schrimpf to a neoclassical wing. Although Hartlaub included some of Scholz’s work in the verist wing, the artist’s work is more often representative of magic realism. The phrases “New Objectivity” and “magic realism” essentially denoted the same thing: After expressionism, artists moved away from abstraction to realism. Although these terms were initially interchangeable, “New Objectivity” became more commonly used.

Both wings of New Objectivity shared some common characteristics. The artists all emphasized visual clarity, sobriety, and unemotional detachment in their work. They concentrated on depicting ordinary people and seemingly insignificant scenes from everyday life, and they painted in rigid, tightly compressed compositions. Their preference for static compositions and fidelity to the outlines of objects differed from the dynamic and generalizing manner of the expressionists. Some of the New Objectivity artists did, however, retain expressionistic devices such as distortion, exaggeration of detail, and alteration of reality in their work. The New Objectivity artists eschewed utopian illusions, and they scrutinized the cold, hard, often ugly facts of life as Germany struggled to recover from the harsh effects of World War I. World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];postwar period During the 1920’s, Germans faced economic hardships, runaway inflation, political unrest, uncertainty, and fear; shattered, insecure, corrupt, empty, and banal lives became common subjects for several leading exponents of the movement, especially Dix, Grosz, and Beckmann.

Dix volunteered for military service during World War I and later became a staunch opponent of war. In his paintings and graphics, he became a satirist and exposed the indecencies of postwar life. Motivated by ethical issues, his work was devoted to depictions of people, especially representations of dismembered ex-soldiers, repulsive, greedy prostitutes, and suffering victims. He frequently employed collagelike elements in his paintings to emphasize the fragmented, irrational, inhumane atmosphere of postwar Germany. Dix used these devices in his painting Streichholzhändler (1920; The Matchseller), Matchseller, The (Dix) which portrays a mutilated male victim of the war as mere rubbish sitting on an urban street. As the blind, quadriplegic matchseller attempts to sell his wares to people hurrying by, a dog lifts its leg and urinates on him. Much of Dix’s work centered on the lack of human values and protests against social injustices.

Grosz volunteered for military service in 1914, but he later became disillusioned with the war and became a pacifist. His style was initially influenced by expressionism, and before his association with New Objectivity, he was a member of the most radical and politicized faction of Berlin Dada. In the 1920’s, Grosz was frequently charged with blasphemy for his irreverent depictions of German militarism. Harboring a deep hatred for both militarism and bourgeois complacency, he developed a grim, satirical style that portrayed society as morally bankrupt. Grosz unleashed his anger against the social decay in the Weimar Republic Weimar Republic;art and produced numerous images of grisly sex murderers, fat bureaucrats, and power-hungry, duplicitous generals. Many of his paintings, such as Sonnenfirsternis (1926; Eclipse of the Sun), Eclipse of the Sun (Grosz) lampoon wealthy, empty-headed bureaucrats who conspire with generals. For Grosz, these despised figures epitomized corruption, power, and cruelty. A consummate social critic, Grosz used his analytic and detached style to develop De Chirico’s Surrealist mannequin figures into dehumanized, mutilated, robotlike representations of people reveling in their own banality. Grosz’s precisely rendered painting Republikanische Automaten (1920; Republican Automatons) Republican Automatons (Grosz) depicts faceless, maimed mannequins as symbols of people’s lost identities in postwar German society.

Beckmann, along with Dix and Grosz, was perceived to be one of the most important representatives of the verist wing of New Objectivity. Beckmann’s work, however, is difficult to assign to a particular style. Although he eschewed abstraction and remained aloof from expressionism, his style had many affinities with the artists of the movement know as Die Brücke (the bridge), especially the use of distortion and exaggeration of detail. During World War I, Beckmann volunteered for military duty and briefly served as a medical orderly on the front. His horrific war experiences resulted in a nervous breakdown, and he was discharged from the military in 1915. He was permanently affected by the war: His style was transformed, and humanity’s inhumanity became its general theme. Beckmann’s painting The Night (1919) Night, The (Beckmann) shows a family being robbed and physically violated in their garret by a gang of thugs. In the center of this spatially compressed composition, a woman, naked and splayed, is about to be raped. Beckmann’s stark, heavily outlined figures retain the expressionist device of distortion, but the somber mood and theme of social injustice anticipates New Objectivity. In this matter-of-fact portrayal of mutilation and physical and mental torture, Beckmann’s angular use of line and exaggeration of detail heighten the effect of polar opposites: weak against strong, good against evil. Much of his work centered on the themes of temptation and cruelty, human exploitation and degradation, and Beckmann sought to show that goodness does not always triumph over evil. Dix, Grosz, and Beckmann, unlike the members of the magic realist wing of New Objectivity, all shared the common aesthetic of disillusionment.

Scholz, Kanoldt, and Schrimpf were minor artists in comparison to Dix, Grosz, and Beckmann, whose verist works epitomized and dominated New Objectivity. Hartlaub included some of Scholz’s work in the veristic wing of the 1925 Mannheim exhibition, but though Scholz painted some socially critical works in the style of Grosz, he is better known for his disquieting still lifes and landscapes that juxtapose industrialized technology with nature or idealized objects from the past. Kanoldt and Schrimpf initially worked in Munich, the center of the magic realist wing of New Objectivity, and they looked toward Italy, not contemporary Germany, for inspiration. They assimilated aspects of De Chirico’s metaphysical paintings, which presented a timeless, inanimate, and disquieting world, and they incorporated these qualities into their own clearly rendered, tightly ordered compositions. The magic realists created gentle, neoclassic images of simple, monumental forms that were smoothly painted and carefully modeled. Their rigid reconstructions of reality were far removed from the concerns of the veristic wing of New Objectivity.


When Adolf Hitler came to power in the early 1930’s, the New Objectivity movement quickly dissipated. By 1933, Hitler had initiated cultural purges to cleanse the nation of modernism. Museums and galleries were emptied of offending examples of modern art. Nazi Germany;art Hitler outlawed modernism and imposed an official style, a realistic naturalism; Dix, Grosz, Beckmann, Scholz, Schrimpf, and Kanoldt were forbidden to paint, and their works were defamed. For the next twelve years, Nazi policy dominated the arts in Germany, and illusionistic painting prevailed. After World War II, German artists who survived the war and Nazi defamation resumed their work. At first, postwar painting in Germany continued to be largely illusionistic, but gradually abstract art and semiabstract painting became popular.

The impact of New Objectivity remained a chiefly German phenomenon. In the 1960’s, a new group of German artists known as critical realists merged the stylistic characteristics of New Objectivity with the formal elements of pop art and Socialist Realism in an attempt to revive the critical social commentary of Dix and Grosz. In the late 1970’s, a group of German artists sharing some unified stylistic affinities exhibited together in a Berlin show focusing on “ugly realism”; artists featured in the exhibit included Salomé (Wolfgang Cilarz), Helmut Middendorf, Rainer Fetting, and Bernd Zimmer. Their raw, abrasive images of sexual and political brutality were stylistic and thematic mixtures of the verist wing of New Objectivity and the brashness of American pop art. Yet, unlike the New Objectivity artists, who primarily depicted social outcasts (prostitutes, beggars, mutilated individuals) as the victims of society, these Berlin artists demonstrate in their work their conviction that everyone is a political victim in modern society. New Objectivity Art movements;New Objectivity Magic realism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barton, Brigid S. Otto Dix and Die Neue Sachlichkeit, 1918-1925. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1981. One of the few good studies in English on Dix. Provides an excellent overview of the artist and discusses his role in the emergence of the New Objectivity movement. Well researched and thoroughly documented. Contains good bibliography and numerous reproductions of Dix’s work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beckmann, Max. Max Beckmann: Retrospective. Edited by Carla Schultz-Hoffmann and Judith C. Weiss. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1984. Compilation of essays provides a solid overview of Beckmann’s work, style, and career, but, unfortunately, does not discuss his role in the New Objectivity movement. Profusely illustrated with excellent color reproductions of the artist’s paintings and numerous examples of his graphics. Good bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eberle, Matthias. World War I and the Weimar Artists: Dix, Grosz, Beckmann, Schlemmer. Translated by John Gabriel. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. Small book discussing the work and biographical backgrounds of four artists whose styles were fundamentally formed by their experiences during World War I. Specifically focuses on how these artists, except for Oskar Schlemmer, were actively involved in political events that they assimilated into their art. Useful source for the general public and students.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grosz, George. George Grosz: An Autobiography. Translated by Nora Hodges. New York: Macmillan, 1983. The artist’s lively and provocative account of his life in the 1920’s as well as of the art of the period. Presents a fusion of Grosz’s art and politics during the Weimar Republic. Contains numerous illustrations, including thirty-seven reproductions of Grosz’s major artworks.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hayward Gallery. Neue Sachlichkeit and German Realism in the Twenties. Translated by David Britt and John Whitford. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1978. Contains two excellent essays defining and examining this artistic phenomenon during the Weimar Republic. Discusses both New Objectivity’s painters and its photographers. One of the best sources in English on the topic. Includes a good, annotated bibliography and many illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Joachimides, Christos M., Norman Rosenthal, and Wieland Schmied, eds. German Art in the Twentieth Century: Painting and Sculpture, 1905-1985. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1985. Presents a broad survey of German art with a compilation of excellent essays, including two on Dix and Beckmann. Profusely illustrated with numerous color reproductions and an extensive, useful bibliography. Contains short biographical annotations on the major German artists. Recommended for both students and the general reader.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Laqueur, Walter. Weimar: A Cultural History, 1918-1933. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974. An insightful survey of Weimar culture that explores the rise and decline of the avant-garde in Germany. Highly readable and interesting. Contains some photographs and a few illustrations of artists’ works. Good bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lewis, Beth Irwin. George Grosz: Art and Politics in the Weimar Republic. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971. In-depth study of Grosz examining his relationship between art and politics. Provides an excellent understanding of the artist as well as insight into the Weimar Republic. Includes many black-and-white reproductions of the artist’s line drawings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lloyd, Jill, and Michael Peppiatt. Christian Schad and the Neue Sachlichkeit. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003. An important but little-known artist, Schad has been associated with both realists and Dadists. This volume includes 140 full-color images and an in-depth discussion of the general nature of the New Objectivity movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McGreevy, Linda F. The Life and Works of Otto Dix: German Critical Realist. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1981. Scholarly endeavor that focuses on Dix as a social critic by examining his graphic work of the 1920’s. Only one chapter on Dix’s work and his role in New Objectivity in Germany. Some black-and-white reproductions and an extensive bibliography. Good source for Dix’s biography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Michalski, Sergiusz. New Objectivity. Los Angeles: Taschen, 2001. A meticulously researched history of the movement. Essential reading for any art student, this book places New Objectivity in its historical and political contexts, examines the movement’s general philosophy, and then studies its influence in specific regions in and outside Germany.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schrader, Bärbel, and Jürgen Schebera. The Golden Twenties: Art and Literature in the Weimar Republic. Translated by Katherin Vanovitch. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. A good, broad survey of Weimar culture. The authors examine the opera, street entertainment, popular music, films, literature, art, and architecture to demonstrate that the Weimar Republic’s cultural life was as troubled as its politics. Numerous photographs and illustrations.

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Categories: History