The same but different

The Alte Nationalgalerie has collected the opposing concepts of impressionism and expressionism into one excellent exhibition that even illustrates that they have more in common than you’d think.

Imex, Kunst, Alte Nationalgalerie, Ausstellung

The ‘Bather’ (1903) by Auguste Renoir sits naked on a white sheet. She is holding her long brown hair out of her face, but her eyes are directed shyly downwards. Soft, tender, fluid – this is how the French impressionist painted her body.

Beside it hangs its counterpart by the German expressionist Max Pechstein: his ‘Sitting Girl’ (1910) looks directly, almost provocatively, at the observer. Thick black contours frame her glowing yellow body, which was literally “thrown onto the canvas”, as the artist himself said. Impressionists (such as Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet) painted their impressions; expressionists (like Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner, Franz Marc and Emil Nolde) were primarily concerned with subjectively expressing something with their images. Remembering this will help visitors on their way through the “Impressionism – Expressionism” exhibition.

Role models and blossoming life

IMEX, Alte Nationalgalerie

The show, with its 60 works, is not merely a contrast of the directions taken by both styles, which intersect both temporally and spatially. Both have more in common than you’d think: they are both currents of the societal upheaval from 1870 to 1914 that began in Europe’s largest cities. In France, the impressionists first painted the blossoming Parisian life: cafés with their small concerts, bars and vaudevilles with their seductive dancers. The expressionists in Germany were fascinated with the new role models of man and woman, as well as the temptations of the pulsating Berlin nightlife. However, impressionists, just like expressionists, were strongly drawn to nature and the representation of private moments.

An awakening into modernity

The aim of the exhibition is to present these similarities and differences side by side, explain Udo Kittelmann, director of the Nationalgalerie, and Philipp Demant, manager of the Alte Nationalgalerie. Both groups of artists worked with outdoor painting, were focused on their immediate living environment and saw themselves as an awakening into modernity. It’s not by chance that it’s the Alte Nationalgalerie that is displaying both styles: in 1896, as the first German museum, it acquired work by impressionists, and later added expressionist works. Items loaned from all over Europe unite these pieces into an absolutely unmissable exhibition. Our tip: factor in a waiting time of one hour at the weekend. If you buy VIP tickets online, you can skip the queue. And if you treat yourself to the audio guide, you can ramble around the rooms on the second floor with the gentle tones of the actress Natalia Wörner telling you everything you need to know.

Both styles sadly came to an abrupt end in 1914. “When World War I broke out and tore the veil from the face of humanity, the carefree, the ephemeral and the apolitical could no longer be the answer”, said the exhibition organisers. Impressionism and Expressionism – they had become outdated.

Impressionism – Expressionism (ImEx)

Imex, Kunst


until 20 September 2015


Alte Nationalgalerie, Museumsinsel,
Bodestraße 1-3, 10178 Berlin-Mitte


Opening hours:
Tue, Wed, Sun: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Thurs – Sat: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Entry: €12, reduced €6


VIP ticket: €30, available at


ImEX Wortbildmarke, Logo: © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

ImEx Presse Installation4: Installationsansicht Alte Nationalgalerie - © David von Becker

ImEx Presse Anzeigenmotiv 2 - Montage: Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Badende mit blondem, offenem Haar, um 1903, Detail
© Belvedere, Wien - Max Pechstein: Sitzendes Mädchen (Moritzburg), 1910, Detail
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2015 Pechstein Hamburg/Tökendorf. Foto: bpk / Roman März

Go back