Although Germany as a united state has existed only since the 19th century, the people referred to as German have a long and distinguished tradition in the visual arts. The Renaissance, marked by renewed interest in ancient Greco-Roman culture, originated in Italy in the 14th century and had spread to Germany by the following century. Albrecht Durer is regarded as the greatest artist of the German Renaissance. Romanticism originated in late 18th century as a reaction against Classicism and Caspar David Friedrich is regarded as the most important German artist of the movement. Expressionism originated in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century and played a key role in shaping the modern art world. German expressionists, led by Franz Marc and Emil Nolde, were vital in shaping the movement. Germany continues to shape the contemporary art scene with artists like Anselm Kiefer and Gerhard Richter being considered among the greatest in the world. Know more about the rich history of German art through its 10 most famous artists and their greatest masterpieces.

 

Emil Nolde
Emil Nolde

#10 Emil Nolde

Lifespan: August 7, 1867 – April 13, 1956

Expressionism was a movement which originated in Germany and is regarded as one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century. Its artists distorted form and used strong colors to express emotional experience rather than physical reality. Die Brücke (The Bridge) was a group of German artists who had a major impact on Expressionism and the evolution of modern art. Emil Nolde is the most renowned artist of this influential group. Among other things, Nolde reintroduced religious subject matter, revitalized the dwindling medium of printmaking and was one of the first 20th century painters to explore color in detail. Emil Nolde is regarded as one of the most important contributors to Expressionism, especially due to his representation of religious imagery in a new, colorful style. More than anything else, his art creates a bridge from Germany’s distant visual past to its more radical future.

Masterpiece: Stormy Sea (1930)

Stormy Sea (1930)
Stormy Sea (1930) – Emil Nolde

Other Famous Works:-

Mask Still Life III (1911)

The Last Supper (1909)

 

Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein the Younger

#9 Hans Holbein the Younger

Lifespan: 1497 – 1543

The Northern Renaissance was the Renaissance that occurred in Europe north of the Alps. German Renaissance was part of the Northern Renaissance and Hans Holbein was one of the leading artists of this movement. He belonged to a family of important artists. His father Hans Holbein the Elder was an accomplished painter of the Late Gothic school. Hans Holbein the Younger began by creating murals and religious works. His art was prized from early in his career. He created many portraits of North European royalty and notables; and was King’s Painter to King Henry VIII of England. Hans Holbein is renowned as one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century and several of his portraits have become cultural icons. His works, including his portraits and religious paintings, are marked by their compelling realism and have been executed with rare precision. Hans Holbein is considered the outstanding German artist of his generation and he remains one of the best known German painters.

Masterpiece: The Ambassadors (1533)

The Ambassadors (1533)
The Ambassadors (1533) – Hans Holbein the Younger

Other Famous Works:-

Portrait of Henry VIII (1537)

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1522)

 

Anselm Kiefer
Anselm Kiefer

#8 Anselm Kiefer

Born: March 8, 1945

Anselm Kiefer is most renowned for monumental canvases which explore German history, especially the horror of the Holocaust. These works forced his contemporaries to deal with the subject in an era when acknowledgment of Nazism was taboo. Kiefer incorporates heavy impasto, a technique in painting where paint is laid in layers that are so think that the brushstrokes are visible. He uses uncommon materials in his pieces; such as straw, ash, clay, lead and shellac. Many of these reference various aspects of history and myth, German and otherwise. He also incorporates text into his paintings; including excerpts from poems, novels and nationalist slogans. The entire career of Kiefer is marked by lack of hesitation in confronting taboos and controversial issues from recent history. In 2005, Anselm Kiefer was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He remains one of the most famous contemporary German artists.

Masterpiece: Breaking of the Vessels (1990)

Breaking of the Vessels (1990)
Breaking of the Vessels (1990) – Anselm Kiefer

Other Famous Works:-

Heroic Symbols (1969)

Bohemia Lies by the Sea (1996)

 

Franz Marc
Franz Marc

#7 Franz Marc

Lifespan: February 8, 1880 – March 4, 1916

Along with Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) was one of two groups of German painters fundamental to Expressionism. The group pursued non-objective or abstract painting and was structured around the idea that color and form carried concrete spiritual values. Along with Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc was the central figure of Der Blaue Reiter. He is most famous for his images of brightly colored animals, especially horses; which he used to convey profound messages about humanity, the natural world and the fate of mankind. Nature and animals were sacred to him; and he portrayed them with meditative reverence. Characteristics of his works include bold and rich primary color; stark simplicity; and deep and profound emotions. Although he died at the age of just 36, Franz Marc had a tremendous impact on Expressionism and he is one of the most famous artists of the movement.

Masterpiece: The Large Blue Horses (1911)

The Large Blue Horses (1911)
The Large Blue Horses (1911) – Franz Marc

Other Famous Works:-

The Fate of the Animals (1913)

The Yellow Cow (1911)

 

Otto Dix
Otto Dix

#6 Otto Dix

Lifespan: December 2, 1891 – July 25, 1969

Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) was a German movement that arose in reaction against Expressionism, which dominated the western art world at that time. It rejected the introverted emotionalism and romantic longings of the expressionists; and instead sought clarity and definition through “matter-of-fact” observation of material reality. Along with George Grosz, Wilhelm Heinrich Otto Dix is widely considered the most important artist of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement. His paintings and drawings vividly depict and severely criticize the corruption, frantic pleasure seeking and general demoralization of Germany following its defeat in the First World War, and the ineffectual Weimar Republic which governed till 1933. Otto Dix is renowned for his ruthless and harshly realistic depictions which may be seen as savage satire on the human condition. He is one of the most famous German artists of the 20th century.

Masterpiece: The War (1932)

War (1932)
War (1932) – Otto Dix

Other Famous Works:-

Pragerstrasse (1920)

Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926)

 

Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter

#5 Gerhard Richter

Born: February 9, 1932

Gerhard Richter has created a wide variety of work. He has produced abstract as well as photo-realistic paintings; sculpture; drawings; photographs; and glass pieces. Like Picasso, Richter has not maintained a single cohesive style and, though he has been associated with several art movements, his work cannot be put under one particular genre. In his photo-paintings, Richter starts with a photograph and projects it onto his canvas. He paints to replicate the look of the original picture and finally employs his hallmark “blur”. In his abstract pictures, Richter builds up cumulative layers of non-representational painting. He begins with brushing big swaths of primary color onto canvas. The paintings evolve in stages, based on his responses to the picture’s progress: the incidental details and the patterns that emerge. Gerhard Richter has received popular and critical acclaim for his works. Many consider him to be the greatest living artist in the world.

Masterpiece: Abstraktes Bild [599] (1986)

Abstraktes Bild [599] (1986)
Abstraktes Bild [599] (1986) – Gerhard Richter
Other Famous Works:-

Lesende (1994)

48 Portraits (1972)

 

Albrecht Durer
Albrecht Durer

#4 Albrecht Dürer

Lifespan: May 21, 1471 – April 6, 1528

Albrecht Dürer was a brilliant painter and draftsman but his greatest artistic impact was in the medium of printmaking. He started his career as an apprentice of Michael Wolgemut, who headed a large workshop and was the leader among the artists reviving the standards of German woodcut at the time. While still in his twenties, Durer had established his reputation and influence across Europe due to his high-quality woodcut prints. He went on to revolutionize printmaking, elevating it to the level of an independent art form and he is regarded as one of the foremost figures in the history of printmaking. Durer was in communication with the major Italian artists of his time, including Raphael and Da Vinci. His introduction of classical motifs into Northern art was an important contribution to the German Renaissance. Albrecht Durer is regarded as the greatest German artist of the Renaissance. He exerted a deep and profound influence on the artists of succeeding generations, especially in printmaking.

Masterpiece: Melencolia I (1514)

Melencolia I (1514)
Melencolia I (1514) – Albrecht Durer

Other Famous Works:-

Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar (1500)

Praying Hands (1508)

 

Max Ernst
Max Ernst

#3 Max Ernst

Lifespan: April 2, 1891 – April 1, 1976

Surrealism was an influential 20th century art movement whose artists rejected rationalism and realism; and instead focused on channeling the unconscious mind to unveil the power of the imagination. Max Ernst was a pioneer of Surrealism as well as the Dada movement, from which Surrealism evolved. Among the most prominent contributions of Ernst is his invention of Surrealist techniques frottage and grattage. In frottage, the artist takes a pastel, pencil or other drawing tool and makes a rubbing over an uneven surface. The drawing can be left as it is or used as basis for further refinement. Grattage involves laying a canvas prepared with a layer of oil paint over a textured object and then scraping the paint off to create an interesting and unexpected surface. Along with Joan Miro, René Magritte and Salvador Dali; Max Ernst is credited with being primarily responsible for creating the golden age of Surrealism. He is one of the most famous German modern artists.

Masterpiece: The Elephant Celebes (1921)

The Elephant Celebes (1921) - Max Ernst
The Elephant Celebes (1921) – Max Ernst

Other Famous Works:

Forest and Dove (1927)

Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924)

 

Caspar David Friedrich
Caspar David Friedrich

#2 Caspar David Friedrich

Lifespan: September 5, 1774 – May 7, 1840

Caspar David Friedrich developed a significant reputation in his early career. However, his reputation declined in his later years as critics, who failed to understand his work, severely attacked it. He died poor and in obscurity; and it was not till the middle of the 20th century that he found favor with the new generation of critics and art historians. Today, Friedrich is an icon in Germany, is internationally renowned and is considered the most important German artist of Romanticism, an art movement that laid emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of the past and nature. Friedrich is viewed as a figure of great psychological complexity, “a celebrator of beauty haunted by darkness”. He is best known for works which put humans amid night skies, morning mists, barren trees, etc. thus illustrating diminished strength of man in the larger scale of life. Freidrich took landscape art and infused it with deep religious and spiritual significance. He is considered one of the most important artists in the genre.

Masterpiece: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1819)

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818)
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) – Caspar David Friedrich

Other Famous Works:-

Monk by the Sea (1810)

The Sea of Ice (1824)

 

Paul Klee
Paul Klee

#1 Paul Klee

Lifespan: December 18, 1879 – June 29, 1940

Paul Klee was a prolific painter who produced over 9000 works of art. He created nearly 500 works in 1933 and over 1200 in 1939. His artworks have been associated with many art movements, including Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Abstraction, but it is difficult to classify them. Klee had a highly individualistic style and he is perhaps the most inventive artist of the 20th century. He interpreted art trends in his own way and used innovative methods and techniques. He worked in multiple media and even combined them into one work at times. Influence of his interest in music can be seen in his works, which also showcase his varying moods and dry humor. Klee studied the color theory and wrote about it extensively. Today, he is renowned as the Newton of Color. Paul Klee was one of the most influential figures in modern art and he is the most famous German artist.

Masterpiece: Ad Parnassum (1932)

Ad Parnassum by Paul Klee
Ad Parnassum (1932) – Paul Klee

Other Famous Works:-

Twittering Machine (1922)

Fish Magic (1925)

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