Art and Devastation: A Tour of German Post-War Expressionism #8

Max Pechstein, The Lord’s Prayer, 1921. Woodcut. MoMA.

Immediately after World War 1, Pechstein and others from the Novembergruppe participated in the German government’s efforts to counter opposition propaganda. Pechstein believed that art was a “duty to the Volk.” His posters were among the most effective of a failed effort. The expressionist posters were rejected by the working class, which felt patronized, and the brief alliance of art and politics ended.

Disillusioned, Pechstein published an expressionist statement of traditional Christianity, woodcuts that illustrated the Lord’s prayer phrase by phrase. The expressionist vocabulary is all here: faces as primitive masks, distorted features and movement, flattened perspective, crude, even violent motion. Yet where this style normally shows cynical social commentary, Pechstein uses it to express Germany’s suffering, and it’s need for God.

Another striking quality is how communal these images are. Page after page shows small groups in peasant garb praying together. This is not Paul Klee’s idiosyncratic mysticism. This is Pechstein saying, “We need to be Christians together, seek God together, pray together.”