Expressionism took many forms including theatre, cinema and art (www.artmovements.co.uk). Other movements including Fauvism, Post- Impressionism and Impressionism heavily influenced the art itself. However Expressionism evolved beyond all those, incorporating many of the elements of each type but also imparting extreme violence and exaggeration of brushstrokes, as well as harsh and intense colour to the canvas in order to convey their personal emotional response to the scene.
In 1880 two events took place that led to the rise of Expressionism. The first was the unification of Germany and all its controlled states into a single federation or empire by the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk). This resulted in the appointment of Wilhelm II, the King of Prussia, (Germany's biggest state) to the position of Emperor of Germany. Wilhelm's governance and his policies led to social and political unrest in the empire and eventually led to World War I.
Kirchner was born in Aschaffenburg, the son of a chemist in the paper industry. Though his parents encouraged his artistic tendencies they did not consider it a profession and after his schooling, his parents sent him to an architecture course in a Technical College in Dresden (http://tigtail.org). While there he formed an artists group with two other students, Heckel and Schmidt- Rotluff. They called themselves Die Brucke, literally, The Bridge. They considered themselves to be a bridge from the old set ways into the future of art and society in Germany. Kirchner was the driving force of this group and his work endures as a striking commentary on German society at the time. His most famous works as his art developed were those belonging to his "Streetwalker" series. Two of those paintings, Potsdamer Platz (1914) and The Street (1913) will be discussed as an example of how the period in which he lived influenced him.
In order to fully comprehend the import of his work it is also necessary to understand the time in which he lived. Germany from 1880 to the time of the Great War was undergoing great turmoil on several fronts. Firstly it was a time of immense expansion on an industrial and technological front (Myers and Praeger, p11). Artists all over Europe were invigorated by this infusion of modernity. However Germanys unified empire was beginning to crack. After the appointment of Wilhelm as Kaiser there was a growing rift between the Emperor and his Chancellor Bismarck on various issues of social policy and he finally forced Bismarck to resign in 1890. With the dismissal of the Chancellor Wilhelm forced the passing of several policies that were completely unsuitable for a technologically developing nation (www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures). He also adopted political stands that led to the development of World War I.
On the social front things were not much better in Germany during this period. Women's rights were virtually unheard of; women were unable to vote until quite late, they had very few legal financial rights and job opportunities and marriage and children were the only way for a respectable woman