German Expressionism Exhibit at VMFA

Treats for the Mind - Museums & Exhibitions

Six DancersBold, brilliant, but flat color outlined in black and distorted human forms became the trademark of the German Expressionists. It was a rebellious reaction, a statement against their predecessors, the French Impressionists, who could only think about color through the prism of light. And they were also telling the Cubists to make room. The Expressionists were coming through with an important new art movement, designed to express often violent emotion and personal inner vision.

A major focus on German Expressionism began in the United States about ten years ago when Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky founded the Neue Galerie in a historic Fifth Avenue mansion on New York’s Museum Mile. Now, rivaling the breadth of the Neue Galerie collection, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has acquired nearly 250 paintings and sculptures, including works on paper, as well as books and print portfolios. Several of the masterpieces from The Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection of German Expressionism were unveiled on May 1, 2010 when Richmond’s VMFA re-opened its doors, revealing its stunning renovation and expansion. The entire collection will eventually get its own permanent space.

VMFA Director Alex Nyerges commented that the collection is “so rare that it is almost indescribable. The collection is of not just national but international importance.” International loan exhibitions are a distinct possibility.


Otto and MoschkaThe Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection takes us back about 100 years in time when Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Otto Dix (1881--1967), Otto Mueller (1874-1930) and others were working in Dresden, Munich and Berlin, some forming Die Brücke (The Bridge) movement. These artists were looking for a new mode of artistic expression that would form a bridge between the past and the present. From 1905-1925, living in Frankfurt, Ludwig and Rosy Fischer were buying the young artists’ paintings as fast as they were made. The couple was fascinated with the daring, neurotic depictions of people on the margins of society, such as Kirchner’s oil Otto and Maschka Mueller in the Studio. Painted in 1911, the garish figures and Matisse-like colorful patterning hint at the anxiety and tension of a society on the brink of war. Just a year later in 1913, August Macke painted Study for a Hat Shop faceting the shop window into cubist blocks.

Ludwig and Rosy Fischer’s son was Dr. Ernst Fischer who had fled Germany to the United States in 1934, taking his half of his parent’s collection with him. Settling in Richmond, he became Chairman of the Physiology Department of the Medical College of Virginia. His brother Max stayed in Germany one year longer. In that short time, Max’s half of the collection was partially sold, confiscated and lost.

Dr. Ernst Fischer’s wife was the social worker Anne Rosenberg Fischer (1902-2008), who died two years ago at the age of 105. She and her family fashioned a gift-purchase agreement with the VMFA fourteen years ago to keep the magnificent collection in Richmond.

Even the pastoral landscapes made a new statement about the harmony between man and nature, while expressing a sort of sexuality and primitivism. Otto Mueller’s (1874-1930) Nude in a Landscape with its Picasso-like face was done in 1915. Rejecting previous movements such as the Academic school and even Art Nouveau, Die Brücke artists were throwing bourgeois values out the window in favor of a bohemian lifestyle, even advocating nudity in an outdoor setting as in Max Bechmann’s (1884-1950) drypoint Adam and Eve. Fiercely affirming their national heritage, they also looked back to the paintings of Dürer and Grunewald, while taking an interest in the woodcut and the linocut.

Six Dancers by Kirchner (above) is a major oil done in 1911. Here he paints both the skin and the tutus of the dancers in vivid mauves, using bold brush strokes. Although their poses are awkward, he seems to evoke a feeling of rhythm and harmony.

Evocative drawings of Berlin, idyllically dramatic figures in a verdant landscape, sophisticated, yet often decadent city dwellers bearing the vicissitudes of impending doom provide a barometer—a glimpse into German life and thought during the first quarter of the 20th century, as collected by Ludwig and Rosy Fischer. The collection now belongs to the VMFA.


Ginger Levit is a private art dealer, focusing on fine French and American paintings of the past 250 years; she also writes about art and antiques. Contact her at


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 – 1938), Six Dancers. 
Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection of VMFA 1911. Copyright Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2010.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 – 1938), Otto and Maschka Mueller in the Studio
. Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection of VMFA  1911. Copyright Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2010



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