To many, World War I was the disappointing failure of a shared dream. Artists had envisioned an ideal, modern world, but that vision became lost amidst the rubble the “Great War” left in its wake. Germany was hit especially hard by the war and, perhaps to a greater extent, by its aftermath. The Treaty of Versailles dictated that the country had to surrender all its wealth to the Allies, leaving the already starving nation in a state of utter economic chaos. Socioeconomic changes were occurring all across Europe, and Germany was no exception. Inflation and poverty forever altered German culture and lifestyle. Gustav F. Hartlaub, a painter at the time, sickened by the unnatural art styles like Cubist Abstraction and Expressionism emanated, initiated a movement he dubbed Neue Sachlichkeit. During the 1920s, New Objectivity compelled German artists and writers alike to embrace naturalism and traditionalism with modern overtones so that the masses could relate to art.

On the eighteenth of May, 1923, German artist Gustav Hartlaub had a revelation. He composed a letter detailing his newest exhibition, writing that he sought to unite artists “who in the last ten years have been neither impressionistically relaxed nor expressionistically abstract, who have devoted themselves exclusively neither to external sense impressions, nor to pure inner construction.”[1] He titled his exhibition Neue Sachlichkeit. While English renders the translation as “new objectivity” or “new matter-of-factness,” it is important to look at a synonym of the second word to grasp all implications of the term. The word Gegenständlichkeit refers to a “pictural reproduction of concrete palpable objects,”[2] and this stresses the vision for naturalism. New Objectivity was “an art movement…that advocated a detached aesthetic toward subjects from everyday life.”[3] Its participants felt that too much twentieth century art captured life in a way that did not depict actuality, whether in human figures or in symbolic ones. Sympathizers of New Objectivity tended to believe that the best approach to art was a natural approach. While the movement possessed “a new and intentional fidelity to the outlines of objects,” it nevertheless did not betray “an aversion for what is ‘ugly’” the way a Renaissance painting would have.[4] In this way, it united tradition with an evolved feeling of modernism.

Because New Objectivity focused on things to which the common person could connect, the movement soon became popular among German artists. Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, and George Grosz, known today for their New Objectivity art, all had exhibitions at Hartlaub’s museum.[5] In addition to them, Christian Schad is a prime example of what the movement stood for, as he painted hyper-realistic figures who practically personified decadence. The photographer and writer August Sander represents the non-painting artists affected by the movement in his unaltered, natural photos. Hartlaub’s dream was becoming a reality. Through an art movement that highlighted the collective rather than the individual, a formerly broken Germany was being united.

Despite the unison of artists, however, there was a dichotomy within the movement. One of the subcategories was labeled Veristic,[6] represented by Otto Dix, which was critical of the socioeconomic situation in the country. The other division was known as Monumental or Classical,[7] whose art was much like the Magic Realism and Italian Metaphysical styles with cold palettes and precise lines. Mense and Kanoldt are recognized today as painters who fall under the Monumental category. In addition to Veristic and Classical, there were works influenced by the French painter Henri Rousseau in the Rousseau School that made a conscious effort for the art to appear naïve,[8] as exemplified by the artists Spiess and Scholz. The fact that there was a variety of styles within the New Objectivity movement only furthers Hartlaub’s initial goal of appealing to the masses.

The word “objectivity” refers to an interpretation outside one’s own mind. Neue Sachlichkeit expanded on this nonpartisanship in a new way. Some artists focused on exaggerating the natural world, others preferred as much detachment as possible, and still others expressed beliefs about society through exaggeration of generalities. New Objectivity was a powerful, progressive movement that welcomed change. Unfortunately, with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, the movement was deemed too dangerous in Germany. Sympathizers of the movement were apt to challenge the disturbing Nazi political party. Many of the written and artistic works for the movement were destroyed, but the artists who died on behalf of New Objectivity will be remembered as martyrs for a better Germany.













Schmalenbach, Fritz. “The Term Neue Sachlichkeit.” The Art Bulletin 22.3 (1940): 161-5.


“August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century.” The J. Paul Getty Museum. J. Paul Getty

Trust, n.d. Web.

“Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity).” The Art History Archive. Lilith eZine, n.d. Web.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Neue Sachlichkeit,” accessed April 13, 2012,


[1] Fritz Schmalenbach. “The Term Neue Sachlichkeit,” The Art Journal, 22, no. 3 (1940): 161.

[2] Ibid, 162.

[3] “August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century.” The J. Paul Getty Museum. J. Paul Getty Trust, n.d. Web.

[4]Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity).” The Art History Archive. Lilith eZine, n.d. Web.

[5] Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. “Neue Sachihkeit,” accessed April 13, 2012,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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