Europe’s most
objective capital

New Objectivity in the 1920s

Peter Foerster, Still Life with Oranges, around 1924
Peter Foerster, Still Life with Oranges, around 1924
© Expired

The art critic Paul Westheim called the Berlin of the 1920s “Europe’s most objective capital”, describing a dominant mood of the times. In art too, a sober style developed after the First World War, and it soon came to be known as New Objectivity [Neue Sachlichkeit].

Christian Schad, Portrait of the Writer Ludwig Bäumer, 1927
Christian Schad, Portrait of the Writer Ludwig Bäumer, 1927
© Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

The artists who adopted it had chosen to observe the visible world, focusing on everyday, unspectacular subjects. Still life, (urban) landscapes and portraits topped the artistic agenda for New Objectivity. In Berlin, its adherents also produced studies of local milieus. Their social critique was explicit. The people and objects in these paintings and drawings are isolated by the distance between them. The compositions are clearly structured, and depictions are detailed. But New Objectivity did not simply reproduce the world of the 1920s. Space and proportions are often distorted, and colours rarely match their real-life motif. Besides, the background is often symbolically encoded. New Objectivity, then, was only objective on the surface. The mellow mood of artists like Otto Dix, George Grosz, Jeanne Mammen and Christian Schad reflected the alienation and crisis in modern society.

Albert Renger-Patzsch, Untitled (Sempervivum percarneum), 1922/23
Albert Renger-Patzsch, Untitled (Sempervivum percarneum), 1922/23

New Objectivity also inspired a sober, neutral idiom in photography. While New Vision [Neues Sehen] reinvented the world in artistic ways, the pictures of New Objectivity testify to a respect for reality. The technical potential of the medium was exploited to highlight the simplicity and beauty of things. A flourishing trade in illustrated magazines in the 1920s boosted demand for fashion and commercial photography, while photojournalism was refined by photographers like Erich Salomon into an independent, highly popular genre.

Represented Artists (Selection)

Christian
Schad

1894 - 1982

Jeanne
Mammen

1890 - 1976

Erich
Salomon

1886 - 1944

Otto
Dix

1891 - 1969

Further topics

Painting "Self-Portrait Wearing a Shroud (Group Portrait)" by Felix Nussbaum from the year 1942

Brought to heel

Berlin art under the Nazis 1933 – 1945

Hans Uhlmann, Untitled, around 1934

Isolation

Art in hiding 1933 – 1945

Werner Heldt, Still Life of Houses, 1948

Amid the rubble

Art at the war’s end in 1945

All topics

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