Der Sturm, the title of the arts magazine that served as the mouthpiece for German Expressionism during the Weimar Republic, translates to “the storm.” The name captured the mood of the iconoclastic publication, founded in 1910 by Expressionist artist, critic, and composer Herwarth Walden. Beetle-browed with a pince-nez, he was painted and sketched frequently by Oskar Kokoschka, one of many artists whose careers he fostered. Born George Lewin in 1879, he was called “the most profound idealist I have ever encountered” by his first wife, Jewish-German poet Else Lasker-Schüler. She’s the one who gave him his pseudonym, inspired by Henry Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods.
“Walden was kind of a genius for promoting art on a lot of different fronts,” Sandra Brooke, head of the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, told Hyperallergic. “He served as a nexus point, introducing Germany and the world abroad to avant-garde developments.” In fact, Der Sturm was a multifaceted brand: in addition to the journal, Walden ran a publishing house and, starting in 1912, a gallery of the same name. He later started a lecture series on modern art called “Sturmabende,” as well as Die Sturmbühne, an Expressionist theater. All stood in stark contrast to the bourgeois aesthetic of Wilhelmine Germany.
The most accessible and wide-reaching of these efforts was the magazine. In the brittle paper pages of Der Sturm, which was distributed internationally, readers could find poetry by the likes of Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars; literary contributions by Max Brod, Alfred Döblin, Anatole France, and Knut Hamsun; and Expressionist dramas from Hermann Essig and August Stramm. Illustrating these texts were artworks — mostly linocuts and woodcuts — by the likes of Marc Chagall, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oscar Kokoschka, Franz Marc, and László Moholy-Nagy.
Der Sturm ran weekly until 1914, then quarterly from 1924 to 1932, publishing 336 issues in total. Today, original copies of the magazine are rare. They can be found in various art libraries, but it’s hard to come by a complete archive.
To bring Der Sturm to the contemporary masses, Princeton’s Blue Mountain Project has digitized all 336 issues, which you can read online (in German) for free. Even if you don’t know the language, it’s still well worth browsing the pages to see the cover designs and illustrations. Looking through the archive offers invaluable context for how the “storm” of German Expressionism gathered and broke over the course of two decades. Like the so-called “degenerate” book covers of the Weimar Republic, these illustrations were the mass-produced, accessible products of the Expressionist, Cubist, Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Tear-out centerfold prints allowed readers to decorate their walls with Kokoschkas and Kandinskys.
While most of the artists featured in Der Sturm were men, Walden did make a point of including female artists in his curatorial efforts, unlike his early-20th-century peers. The works shown most often at Sturm Gallery were those of Dutch painter Jacoba van Heemskerck and Swedish-born painter Nell Roslund, who became Walden’s second wife in 1912. By the time the gallery closed, in 1932, Walden had exhibited works by more than 30 female artists — meager in comparison to the number of male artists it showed, but still more than any other gallery of its time.
The digitization of Der Sturm is part of the Blue Mountain Project’s ongoing effort to make available art, music, and literary periodicals published between 1848, the year of the European Revolutions, and 1923. These digital archives are eminently searchable, thanks to thorough indexing of contents, detailed metadata, and accompanying essays.
In 1932, Walden, who’d joined the Communist Party, fled Germany and Hitler for Moscow. Der Sturm folded before it could be deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis. Because of his interest in the avant-garde, however, Walden was persecuted under Stalin’s regime while in exile. In 1941, he was jailed for treason and died in a Soviet prison later that year. While he didn’t achieve the household-name status of some of his German Expressionist contemporaries, the Der Sturm archives are ample evidence of his outsized role in the movement.
Browse the entire collection of Der Sturm here.