The aesthetic movement of Expressionism gained prominence during the early twentieth century, and had a profound impact on the arts - especially theater, painting, sculpture, and film. Expressionism was particularly popular between 1910 and 1920, and the movement ushered in a rebellion against the established Impressionist style that had previously dominated the fine arts. Whereas Impressionism concentrated on the artist's interpretation of a given subject, Expressionism was rooted in the artist's own state of mind or vision. Expressionists infused their subjects with a rich emotional quality through a concentration of systematized symbols.
The movement was largely inspired by Nietzsche's philosophy of art, which held that the artistic impulse inspired a wondrous vitality - a reawakening of the senses - in the artist himself. In other words, the artist breathes in the basic gestures of creation, which are then expressed in his work. Developed during a period of history that saw Germany undergo severe social, political, and economic dislocation following the country's defeat in World War I, German Expressionism conveyed a feeling of chaos through the usage of darkly violent images that reflected the state of mind of both the artist and society in general. Art became an action, and the human gestures being portrayed became a reflection of the artist's personality and sensibility. The artist's medium was thus transformed into a vehicle for social and political critique. The works were driven by activist impulses and colored by the emotional registers of the revolutionary spirit.
While Expressionist painters were predominantly inspired by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and thus paid special attention to color and symbolism and employed exaggerated imagery, German Expressionism focused on the more sinister aspects of the human psyche. German Expressionism conveyed a feeling of darkness, eccentricity, madness, paranoia, and obsession. German Expressionists often focused on the criminal underworld, infusing their works with a surreal, eerie atmosphere, anti-heroic characters, and elements of evil and betrayal. They also utilized geometric shapes, and often examined the contrast between the city and the country. They did not aim to offer a realistic portrayal of the world, but rather strove to elicit a powerful, authentic emotional response from their audiences. Deliberately dream-like, their images were filled with distorted lines and shapes, and often included intensely sexual - even orgiastic - scenes.
As an art student, Friedrich Duerrenmatt, to the dismay of his teachers, rebelled against the Impressionist establishment and began painting in the German Expressionist style. Early in his career, he exhibited a tendency towards insubordination - a proclivity that can also be seen in The Visit, which receives the full brunt of his political and social critique of Swiss neutrality during World War II. In The Visit, Duerrenmatt also critiques capitalism using dramatic gestures and visual techniques that are highly reminiscent of German Expressionist art. The Black Panther, the character of Louisa, and the four citizens who constantly change into trees and back again are particularly reminiscent of German Expressionist works.