Die Brücke

What is Die Brücke?

Die Brücke (The Bridge) was a group of German painters and printmakers founded in 1905 in Dresden and lasted until 1913. They were avant-garde artists who created the first German expressionist group.

Brücke members realized paintings and prints characterized by bold lines, bright and non-naturalistic colors, and simplified style. Their subjects included female nude, landscapes, portraiture, still-life, and the theme of the modern city, always represented to express strong emotional tension and violent imagery.

The founding members were four architecture students of Art Nouveau, who had a common radical inspiration. According to their manifesto, Brücke artists intended to create a type of art that would break with the conventional tradition of academic art history, but also with more recent other artists’ trends, such as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.

They were the forerunners of the broader Expressionist movement, a new generation of artists which support antitraditional art, spreading throughout Europe in the first two decades of the 20th century.

The term Die Brücke is a German expression that means ‘the bridge’. The group used the metaphor of the bridge inspired by a passage from Thus Spake Zarathustra by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche hypothesized humanity’s potential to represent a gradual “bridge” to a perfect future; similarly, the members of Die Brücke the bridge wanted to build a bridge between past and new art of the present, through their innovative painting. They wanted to counter the realist and impressionist painting of the 19th century with a new style, based on expressiveness and even violent emotions. Die Brücke modern art embodied an ideal link to the art of the future.

According to other scholars, the group held a great interest in creating links between art and society, too. Members of the group, in addition to often depicting social scenes, worked materially to insert artists into the social fabric, building bridges between artists and patrons. Many members were not artists but patrons who support and joined them paying a subscription.

Examples of Diebrucke artworks


  • https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kirchner-bathers-at-moritzburg-t03067; Bathers at Moritzburg, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1909-1926, Tate, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kirchner-bathers-at-moritzburg-t03067
  • https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EineK%C3%BCnstlergemeinschaft.jpg; A Group of Artists, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1926-27, Ludwig Museum, https://museum-ludwig.kulturelles-erbe-koeln.de/documents/obj/05010391
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Br%C3%BCcke#/media/File:Bleyl-Poster.jpg; Exhibition Poster, Fritz Bleyl, 1906
  • https://www.wikiart.org/en/ernst-ludwig-kirchner/five-women-at-the-street, Five Women at the Street, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1913, Ludwig Museum, https://museum-ludwig.kulturelles-erbe-koeln.de/documents/obj/05010387
  • Die Brücke Exhibition Poster- woodcut print, Erich Heckel, 1908, Detroit Institute of Arts, https://www.dia.org/art/collection/object/die-brucke-exhibition-poster-47696
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/Self-Portrait-with-Monocle; Self-Portrait with Monocle, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 1910, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
  • https://www.wikiart.org/en/emil-nolde/dance-around-the-golden-calf-1910, Dance around the Golden Calf, Emil Nolde, 1910, Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

History of Die Brücke Movement


Die Brücke group was founded in 1905 by four young architecture students from Dresden (Germany): Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel and Fritz Bleyl. They met at the Königliche Technische Hochschule (Technical University), where Kirchner and Bleyl initially became tight friends. During this period, the artists could study architectural principles, but also freehand and perspective drawing. It was an all-around knowledge that allowed the mutual exchange of techniques and skills. They set up the Künstlergruppe Brücke (Artists Group Bridge), showing since the beginning their radical approach in creating and exhibiting art. Die Brücke‘s first exhibition was set up in a lamp factory, full of Jugendstil lamps. A choice that testifies the link of the artist with the area of design and industrial production.

Die Brücke artists published their manifesto in 1906, a woodblock print of the Brücke Programme that Kirchner wrote. They set a new form of art based on freedom of expression and traditional bonds, exalting their idea of a young group of artists: “as young people, who bear within themselves the future of humanity, we want to wrest freedom for our actions and our lives, in opposition to older, comfortably established forces. Whoever renders directly and authentically that which impels him to create is one of us.”. Their revolutionary urgency was often thwarted, in one instance when the police banned the display of a poster created by artist Bleyl because it was deemed sexually compromising. The original founding group was later expanded to include artists Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, and Otto Mueller and lasted until 1913.

To divulge their ideas and come into close contact with the public, the group published newspapers and magazines. Among the most famous were Der Sturm (1909), Die Action (1911), and Revolution (1913). In 1913 the adventure of the group ended because of the artistic disagreements that arose between the founding members, especially after Kirchner’s move to Berlin in 1911.

Themes and Style

Die Brücke’s (The Bridge) interest in spontaneous and primitive painting links them to the almost contemporary French group of Fauves. The two groups used an immediate style, almost violent in its colors and lines, and with subjects that are never totally abstract.

The subjects represented by Die Brücke art were the most varied: nudes in exteriors and interiors, urban scenes, still-lifes. After the first moment of concentration related to the metropolitan landscape (particularly of Berlin), they also opened up to more arcadian and nature themes. Other frequent themes were dancers and circus scenarios. The painter Mueller also organized trips in the South of France to get inspiration.

Die Brücke’s painting was characterized by fast execution, energy, violent colors, and angularity of form, influenced by primitivism. In their paintings emerges the anxiety and restlessness that would later erupt in the Avant-Garde movements of the early 20th century.

Die Brücke Techniques and German Art

The Die Brücke movement was oriented towards the creation of an innovative art, but at the same time they studied and applied techniques inspired by the masters of the past. The members of the group drew inspiration primarily from the great masters of German Art, such as Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald, and Lucas Cranach the Elder. They also revived the older techniques of their national heritage, as traditional woodcut prints (xylography). The artists also invented the printmaking technique of linocut, a variant of woodcut realized with a sheet of linoleum. The focus on prints also allowed the group to do a lot of work on advertising materials and design.

Another source of imagery was African tribal and South Pacific art, particularly the linearity of wooden sculptures.

The legacy of the Die Brücke technique went beyond their national borders, becoming with the Munich group Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”) the precursors of German expressionist art.

Notable Die Brücke Painters

Fritz Bleyl (8 October 1880 – 19 August 1966), German

Erich Heckel (31 July 1883 – 27 January 1970), German

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (6 May 1880 – 15 June 1938), German

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1 December 1884 – 10 August 1976), German

Emil Nolde (born Hans Emil Hansen; 7 August 1867 – 13 April 1956), German-Danish

Hermann Max Pechstein (December 31, 1881 – June 29, 1955), German

Otto Müller (16 October 1874 – 24 September 1930), German

Related Terms

About Cinzia Franceschini

Cinzia Franceschini is an Italian Art Historian specializing in the History of Art Criticism, with a second degree in Communications and Sociology studies. She studied in Padua, Brussels, Turin as well as anywhere with an Internet connection. She works as a guide in Museum Education Departments and as a Freelance Writer. She writes about Contemporary Arts and Social Sciences, and how they intertwine.