Neue Sachlichkeit in Visual Arts [New Objectivity in Visual Arts] By Mackenzie, Michael
Neue Sachlichkeit, which can be translated as “New Objectivity,” was the name given to a tendency in painting which, from about 1921 on, returned to something like traditional compositional and representational codes, eschewed vehemence of any kind, “Primitivism,” and even painterliness, while emphasizing unbroken contour lines and unbroken local color. Painters depicted conventional subject matter such as still life, landscapes, and portraits with the pictorial means of sculptural volume, perspectival space, natural proportions, and unbroken, evenly modulated tonal values which had dominated painting since the Renaissance but which had been systematically dismantled by Modernism.
The tendency received its name with an exhibition at the Mannheim Kunsthalle in 1925, organized by Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, although art critics had sought to name and define it since 1920, and explicitly in opposition to an Expressionism widely perceived as moribund. Hartlaub described what he saw as a split in the overall tendency, with an inclination toward traditionalism and classicism on the “right” wing, and toward aggressively critical social commentary and a propensity to exaggeration and caricature on the “left” (although Hartlaub denied that there was any political significance to his terminology of “left” and “right,” the artists assigned to the “left” wing were either active in or openly sympathetic to the left wing of German politics).