Die Brücke (The Bridge) was a group of German expressionist artists formed in Dresden in 1905, after which the Brücke Museum in Berlin was named. Founding members were Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Later members were Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller. The group was one of the seminal ones, which in due course had a major impact on the evolution of modern art in the 20th century and created the style of Expressionism.
The founding members of Die Brücke in 1905 were four Jugendstil architecture students: Fritz Bleyl (1880-1966), Erich Heckel (1883-1970), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976). They met through the Königliche Technische Hochschule (technical university) of Dresden, where Kirchner and Bleyl began studying in 1901 and became close friends in their first term. They discussed art together and also studied nature, having a radical outlook in common. Kirchner continued studies in Munich 1903–1904, returning to Dresden in 1905 to complete his degree. The institution provided a wide range of studies in addition to architecture, such as freehand drawing, perspective drawing and the historical study of art.
Die Brücke aimed to eschew the prevalent traditional academic style and find a new mode of artistic expression, which would form a bridge (hence the name) between the past and the present. They responded both to past artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder, as well as contemporary international avant-garde movements. As part of the affirmation of their national heritage, they revived older media, particularly woodcut prints. The group developed a common style based on vivid color, emotional tension, violent imagery, and an influence from primitivism. After first concentrating exclusively on urban subject matter, the group ventured into southern Germany on expeditions arranged by Mueller and produced more nudes and arcadian images. They invented the printmaking technique of linocut, although they at first described them as traditional woodcuts, which they also made.
The group members initially "isolated" themselves in a working-class neighborhood of Dresden, aiming thereby to reject their own bourgeois backgrounds. Erich Heckel was able to obtain an empty butcher's shop on the Berlinerstrasse in Friedrichstadt for their use as a studio. Bleyl described the studio as:
The group composed a manifesto (mostly Kirchner's work), which was carved on wood and asserted a new generation, "who want freedom in our work and in our lives, independence from older, established forces."
In September and October 1906, the first group exhibition was held, focused on the female nude, in the showroom of K.F.M. Seifert and Co. in Dresden.
Emil Nolde (1867-1956) and Max Pechstein (1881-1955) joined the group in 1906. Bleyl married in 1907, and, with a concern to support his family, left the group. Otto Mueller (1874-1930) joined in 1910.
Between 1907 and 1911, Brücke member stayed during the summer at the Moritzburg lakes and on the island of Fehmarn. In 1911, Kirchner moved to Berlin, where he founded a private art school, MIUM-Institut, in collaboration with Max Pechstein with the aim of promulgating "Moderner Unterricht im Malen" (modern teaching of painting). This was not a success and closed the following year.
In 1913, Kirchner wrote Chronik der Brücke (Brücke chronicle), which led to the ending of the group.
A successor group formed in 1919, the Dresdner Sezession, including painter Conrad Felixmüller.
Die Brücke was one of two groups of German painters fundamental to Expressionism, the other being Der Blaue Reiter group ("The Blue Rider"), formed in Munich in 1911.
In recent years, the influence of Die Brücke has been seen in the Stuckist group of painters.