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April 15, 2022

The Anxious Eye: German Expressionism and Its Legacy

Walter Gramatté
Die Grosse Angst (The Great Anxiety)
, 1918
drypoint in black on wove paper, similar to Japan paper
plate: 29.9 x 24.1 cm (11 3/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
sheet: 40.1 x 30.7 cm (15 13/16 x 12 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Ruth and Jacob Kainen Collection
1989.80.3

The Anxious Eye: German Expressionism and Its Legacy
National Gallery of Art, Washington, January 29–June 11, 2023

The National Gallery of Art has important holdings of prints and drawings by German expressionists Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Emil Nolde, among others. The Anxious Eye: German Expressionism and Its Legacy presents insights into the work of these inventive early 20th-century artists and their continuing impact a century later. The exhibition features recent acquisitions as well as works that have rarely, if ever, been on view, including gifts donated by celebrated Washington, DC, collectors Jacob and Ruth Cole Kainen. In addition to Heckel, Kirchner, and Nolde, the expressionists on view in more than 70 prints, drawings, illustrated books, and portfolios include key figures Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, Egon Schiele, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, as well as lesser-known artists such as Walter Grammatté.

Through their bold distortions, angular, simplified forms, and use of non-naturalistic colors, the German expressionists sought to convey the complex emotional and psychological responses to their changing world during the social, cultural, and political upheavals in the early decades of the 20th century. Following the recent World War I centenary, new reflections on the historical period 1900–1920 add depth to our understanding of these artists and their artistic heirs. Post-1950 and contemporary artists shown at the conclusion of the exhibition—Leonard Baskin, Nicole Eisenman, Orit Hofshi, Rashid Johnson, Matthias Mansen, and others—demonstrate the ways in which artists have carried forward the German expressionists’ rich legacy. The exhibition invites us to consider how the intensity of the human experience in transformational moments in history effectively captured in the work of the German expressionists strongly resonate with us and the cultural and political shifts taking place in our own world today.

The exhibition is curated by Shelley Langdale, curator and head of modern prints and drawings, National Gallery of Art.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

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