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Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity)

Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) Collage

Started: 1919

Ended: 1933

"We must be a part of all the misery which is coming. We have to surrender our heart and our nerves ... It's the only course of action which might give purpose to our superfluous and selfish existence (as artists) that we give people a picture of their fate."

Max Beckmann Signature

Summary of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity)

Eschewing the idealism and utopianism that marked the first decade of the 20th century and disillusioned by a World War that wreaked havoc on bodies and society, the artists associated with Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity as it is translated in English, presented an unsentimental realism to address contemporary culture. Disgusted with the corruption apparent throughout the Weimar Republic but also entranced by new freedoms, this diverse group of artists did not necessarily share a style but rather a commitment to expose the objective truth underlying contemporary ills. Employing caricature, satire, Neoclassicism, and even Surrealism, artists such as Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Otto Dix, and August Sander portrayed leaders, bureaucrats, bohemians, laborers, and themselves unflinchingly, each complicit in the society they inhabited. The artists highlighted the social and political turmoil of life emphasized through war-profiteers, beggars, and prostitutes. They explored the rise of the metropolis with its freedoms and sexual liberation, but noted the increasing alienation from nature and rural life.

While their version of realism was initially regarded by some art historians as retrograde, Neue Sachlichkeit's variants would go on to later influence Magic Realism and German art of the 1960s as well as contemporary photography as propagated by Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Key Ideas

The Neue Sachlichkeit artists embraced realism in defiance of trends towards abstraction but renounced the idiosyncratic subjectivities espoused by early German Expressionists. They instead combined their realism with a healthy dose of the biting protests of the Dada movement. For the most part, their realism was not a traditional mimeticism but a distorted and dark realism that aimed to expose the moral degradation they witnessed in German society.
While all of the artists were committed to depicting current affairs, their styles ranged from a satirical Verism to a nostalgic Classicism to an uncanny Magical Realism. Despite the stylistic differences, many of the artists preferred more static compositions rather than dynamic ones, rendered their subjects with great precision, and eradicated the traces of the painting process and all gestural elements.
Portraiture, and self-portraiture, was common among the Neue Sachlichkeit artists. Whichever style the artist practiced, there is usually a tension in the portrait between the individual being represented and the type, or roll, that person plays in society. In the effort to paint the truth of the person, Neue Sachlichkeit portraits do not shy away from unflattering details or unsettling psychological effects.
Neue Sachlichkeit photographers shared the painter's desire to portray the objective truth of reality, but for the most part they avoided the social and political commentary that underlies so much of the painting.
Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) Image


Before World War I, Expressionism, as practiced by the groups Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke, held sway in Germany. Inspired by the exoticism of non-Western art and the dynamism of modern, urban life, these artists abandoned the traditional conceptions of art and searched for a language that was highly intuitive and emotional. Artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emile Nolde focused on the individual's inner world, highlighting the subjective perspective of seeing and understanding the world. If the idealism of Expressionism reigned before World War I, Dadaism, founded in 1916 in Zurich and spreading to Berlin shortly thereafter, embodied the nihilism and anti-art sentiments felt by many artists during the war. The fierce critique of war and bourgeois culture led to the rise of the photomontages of Hannah Hoch and Raoul Hausmann after the war.

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