Artistic Movements and Individualism. Hermann Muthesius, an early pioneer of German architectural modernism, once referred to the nineteenth century as the “inartistic century.” It may be true that German Realism produced fewer creative breakthroughs than the Romanticism of the first half of the century or the Expressionism of the Wilhelmine period. Realist painting often drew on Biedermeier conventionality rather than Romantic rebellion. Nevertheless, the images and texts included in this section illustrate that Germany’s cultural institutions remained regionally dispersed and resistant to top-down control. Artists sought but never found a distinctive, coherent form of “German” art that would reflect the political “unity” of the post-1871 nation state.
Germany’s federal states (and municipalities) set their own cultural policies to express and protect “public taste.” These policies became more important after 1890, when sex-, crime-, and adventure stories called into existence a moral purity movement – something that was hardly necessary in Bismarckian Germany. Unlike France, with its indisputable cultural capital, Paris, late-nineteenth-century Germany could boast many centers of artistic production, not a single definitive one. Dresden and Munich were in the lead, but Berlin, the new political capital, was gradually making a name for itself as a cultural center, too. If the lack of a single center of artistic production hindered the development of a cohesive German style, then it also provided for a diversity that accommodated the personal idiosyncrasies of independent artists. Some artists abandoned even these artistic centers and developed a lighter, “open air” (plein air) style of landscape painting (IM25, IM27). Others followed peasants into tiny rural cottages and rustic taverns in order to paint them in their daily environments (IM21, IM22, IM23).