Neue Sachlichkeit


During my research into August Sander, I read that he had been influenced by the Cologne Progressive Artists Group who themselves were proponents of Neue Sachlichkeit – New Objectivity. 

In her Tate Papers article ‘August Sander and the artists: locating the subject of new objectivity’ Dorothy Rowe’s directs the reader to an essay by Wieland Schmied. So, I read the 1978 exhibition catalogue ‘Neue Sachlichkeit and German Realism of the Twenties’ containing the essay as suggested. 

Origin of the term ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ 

Wieland credits G.F. Hartlaub with first coining the term. In a 1923 invitation to artists to contribute to an exhibition Hartlaub says: 

In the autumn I would like to mount a medium-sized exhibition of paintings and graphic art which might perhaps have the title ‘Die Neue Sachlichkeit’ .  I am interested in bringing together representative works by those artists who over the last 10 years have been neither impressionistically vague nor expressionistically abstract, neither sensuously superficial nor constructivistically introverted. I want to show those artists who have remained – or who have once more become – avowedly faithful to positive, tangible reality’.

Characteristics of Neue Sachlichkeit 

Weiland describes NS as a ‘new way of seeing, corresponding to a changed attitude to the phenomena of life’.  Presumably as a result of the war.  He describes the characteristics of Neue Sachlichkeit as follows: 

A new and intentional fidelity to the outlines of objects, which contrast in particular with the mobile, expensive, generalising manner of the Expressionists; 

Visual sobriety and acuity, and unsentimental, largely emotionless way of saying; 

Concentration on everyday things, on banal, insignificant and unpretentious subjects, betraying no aversion from what is ‘ugly’; 

Isolation of the object from any contextual relationship, thus calling its identity into question; 

Static pictorial structure, often suggesting a positively airless, glassy space, And a general preference for the static over the dynamic; 

Manifest construction of a picture out of heterogeneous details which form no organic whole (the collage-like assemblage of ‘particles of experience’ suggests no experiential connection, is confirmed by no unified perspective, and is illuminated by no single light source); 

Eradication of the traces of the process of painting, and elimination of all gestural elements which might betray the hand of the individual painter; 

Finally a new mental relationship with the world of objects. 

The End of Neue Sachlichkeit 

The NS movement was brought to an end during the Nazi cultural purges following the arrival of Hitler as Chancellor in 1933.  


(1) Schmied, W. (1978). Neue Sachlichkeit and German Realism of the Twenties. 1st ed. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, p.9.

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