The artists of Der Blaue Reiter
Annegret Hoberg

Together with the Brücke (active in Dresden from 1905, and later in Berlin), Der Blaue Reiter group in Munich and Murnau was one of the most significant modernising elements in 20th century German art. In contrast to the Brücke, with its closely knit artistic and communal life-style, Der Blaue Reiter represented a somewhat loose association of differing artistic personalities. The two leading figures were Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, and the high points of the movement’s activities were its two exhibitions of 1911 and 1912, together with publication of the "Almanach Der Blaue Reiter" in 1912, a document that was later to become so famous. Now as then, this publication provides vivid testimony of the aims and ambitions of the group. One of its key ideas was the principle of the "inner necessity" of the work of art, which represented its true artistic moment, transcending all formal elements. On the one hand, this idea bore witness to the movement’s pluralism, which, by contrast with the Expressionism of Die Brücke, did not produce a unified style, but rather allowed numerous different forms of expression. On the other hand, the many instances in the work of the Blaue Reiter that presage the possibility of a "spiritual" element in art are an indication of the specifically spiritual character of this second important circle of German Expressionism, something that finally found expression in Kandinsky’s revolutionary breakthrough into abstract painting.

This development was only possible because of the coming together of a number of artistic influences, and also through the interaction of various artistic personalities; the result was a stimulation of individual talents that helped them to negotiate the various stages of a common path. The nature of this interaction between the artists of Der Blaue Reiter will be briefly summarised in what follows, beginning with the leading figure of Kandinsky.

Wassily Kandinsky, born in Moscow in 1866, had studied Law and Economics and could have looked forward to a successful academic career in his homeland when he decided, at the age of thirty, to become a painter, and with this in mind came to Munich in 1896. For four years he studied at the private school of Anton Azbè, where his compatriots Alexei Jawlensky and Marianne Werefkin also studied, although only later did he come into more intimate – and ultimately decisive – contact with them. Subsequently he studied for a year at the Munich Academy under Franz von Stuck. However, like many other artists of the progressive generation around the turn of the century, Kandinsky felt dissatisfied with the academic instruction on offer and autodidactically embarked on his "small studies in oils", which inceasingly featured a "strongly singing" colour on the painted field. Numerous subjects taken from Schwabing or the outskirts of Munich were rendered in this manner.

Notwithstanding this modest beginning, Kandinsky, while still unknown and largely dependent on his own resources, joined the sculptor Wilhelm Hüsgen, and other personalities of the Schwabing art scene such as Ernst Stern, Alexander Salzmann and Waldemar Hecker, to found a private art school in 1901, the so-called Phalanx. The school continued in existence until 1904 and organised important exhibitions of the contemporary avant-garde from Germany and abroad. At the beginning of 1902, Gabriele Münter, who had arrived in Munich from Bonn in the early spring, became one of his first students.

In the summer of 1902 Münter accepted an invitation from Kandinsky to spend the holiday period in Kochel, together with the other students of the Phalanx. (Fig. 1.) It was this summer school period that led to the first intimacy between teacher and pupil. A year later in 1903, during the Phalanx summer school in Kallmünz in the Upper Palatinate, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter became "engaged". However, because Kandinsky was still married to a Russian cousin who had accompanied him to Munich, the couple set out on several years of travel, in order to avoid the social awkwardness arising from this irregular situation.

The wanderings of Kandinsky and Münter brought them to Holland in the spring of 1904, then in winter of the same year to Tunis, later to Dresden and Rapallo. Finally there followed in 1904/1905 an extended year in Paris. In their oil paintings, the couple remained true until 1907 to the palette knife technique of Post-Impressionism, which had informed Kandinsky’s early works in Munich. Between 1901 and 1907, however, Kandinsky also created, beside his oils, a large number of his so-called "coloured drawings", in fact works in tempera, watercolours and numerous woodcuts. The tempera works in particular often depicted scenes from a long forgotten world, typically from the German Middle Ages or old Russia. These would have appeared to have offered Kandinsky an excuse for greater artistic freedom: "It soon seemed to me," he was later to write, "that olden times, representing something real that yet no longer exists, could give me a freer hand in the use of the colours that I intuitively felt were appropriate." A masterpiece of Kandinsky’s Paris period is the large tempera work entitled "The Colourful Life". (Fig. 2.) Here may be seen many figures of old Russia, often depicted in unclear relationships to each other, like a colourful mosaic placed against a dark background; it seems to represent a coded reference to human life itself, with its constituent elements of birth and death, faith and love, struggle and leave-taking. In the flexibly painted "masses, spots and lines all piled together" (Kandinsky’s formulation in Retrospective) the artist evidently gained experience in a mode of seeing that already tended towards abstraction. It is worth noting that here, as also in the later substantially abstract pictures by Kandinsky from the Der Blaue Reiter period, complex and symbol-laden meaning may be discovered. Some of the motifs, such as the rider, the boat or the Kremlin, take on new roles and diversity in his abstract pictures and inform the latter with their own suggestive aura of significance.

In 1908 came the decisive turn which also presaged the Der Blaue Reiter movement. Following a final journey to South Tyrol in the spring of 1908, Kandinsky and Münter decided to settle in Munich for good and to look for a pleasant place to paint in the surroundings of the city. On one of their excursions, they discovered the little market town of Murnau on the Staffelsee. Delighted by its position on a ridge above the flatlands of the Murnauer Moos, and below the sharply rising and imposing mountains, and entranced by the clear, reflective light of the Alpine foothills, which seemed to magnify its constituent elements, and the colours that seemed to achieve an almost unreal intensity, they enthusiastically reported back to their painter colleagues, Alexei Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin. The latter arrived in Murnau shortly thereafter and rented rooms in the Gasthof Griesbräu on the main street. After one more journey to visit the Upper Austrian lakes that lasted until the beginning of August, Kandinsky and Münter returned to Murnau to join their by now equally enthusiastic friends.

The following weeks of the beautiful summer period in Murnau from mid-August until the end of September 1908 they all devoted to painting. Especially in the work of Kandinsky, Münter and Jawlensky this period ushered in a new approach to their art, and heralded the long sought after individual form of artistic expression. While Marianne von Werefkin largely remained true to Symbolism and deepened her concept of "Wesensfarben" (the identification of specific colours with individual modes of being), the other artists soon discovered a new style in their oil studies of the town and its surroundings. This style featured a powerful, strongly lit colouring which increasingly departed from its model in nature, together with a flat treatment of space, an absence of objective detail and a simplification of individual form.

View from the window Griesbau by Kandinsky was painted right at the beginning of his stay in Murnau and is characterised by a fluid, distended brushwork, which was to be much employed in the development of the new painting technique. (Fig. 3.) Looking back on this time, Gabriele Münter gives a suggestive description of this development in her journal written in 1911: "We had discovered Murnau on one of our excursions and recommended it to Jawlensky and Werefkin – who later asked us to join them there in the autumn. We lived in the Griesbau and liked it very much. After a short period of struggle, I managed a great step forward, from more or less impressionistic nature painting to a feeling for content, which could be extracted and rendered in the abstract. It was a beautiful, interesting and happy time of work, with many discussions about art with the enthusiastic "Giselisten" [a reference to Werefkin and Jawlensky, who had a large flat in Schwabing in the Giselstrasse]. I particularly liked to show Jawlensky my work – on the one hand he liked to praise a lot, while on the other hand he also explained many things to me, sharing what he had experienced and achieved – and we often discussed the idea of "Synthesis" (...) All four of us worked hard and each of us developed."

In 1908 Alexei Jawlensky, a friend of Marianne von Werefkin since his time as a student in St Petersburg, where she was a pupil of the famous Russian painter Ilya Repin, had more international experience than his three artist colleagues, and in particular had become closely involved with French painting. In two extended stays in France in 1903 and 1905 (Brittany, Paris and Provence) he had had a chance to study not only the work of Van Gogh, but also the latest trends as represented by Henri Matisse and the Fauves. In the winter of 1906–1907, Jawlensky had got to know the Dutch painter and monk, Willibrod Verkade through the Münchner Kunstverein, and allowed Verkade to work in his Munich studio for six months. Verkade in turn introduced Jawlensky to the work of the Nabis and Maurice Denis, Gauguin’s successor, from all of which he learned about the expressive effects of flat painting and the concept of an all-embracing pictorial "synthesis". Above all, the Nabis’ idea of "cloisonnismus", the concentration of the pictorial elements on a few flatly painted figures enclosed in black contours (cloisonné), was transmitted via Jawlensky to his Murnau friends, especially to Gabriele Münter.

In the summer of 1909 Münter painted the picture of the two friends, Jawlensky and Werefkin, lying in a meadow, employing an extensively simplified form and strong, clear contrasts of colour. (Fig. 4.) In the homogeneous green of the grassy slope and the equally strong blue of the sky, the figures are depicted in a way that deliberately transgresses aginst the traditional notions of proportion; the faces are incomplete, while all the important pictorial elements are enclosed in lapidary and precise black contours. Münter’s still-lifes from 1908–1909, with their radiant colour and simple black contours, strongly remind one of similar pictures by Jawlensky painted at the same time. Jawlensky’s Landscape at Murnau (1909), also called Chausée and acquired early on by Kandinsky and Münter, shows his development at this time very clearly, namely the reduction of the viewed scene to a few basic elements: the abstract rendering of objects such as streets, trees and mountains so that they appear as a geometric scaffolding, together with an extremely bold fauvist, or indeed, expressionistic use of colour, represented a radical departure from hitherto normative traditions in painting. (Fig. 5.) Kandinsky’s Nature Study at Murnau of 1909 also shows a rigorous simplification of the objective elements in the picture. While here too there are dark contours around fields with objects rendered largely in the abstract, Kandinsky also develops similar marker lines into a graphical shorthand for the trees and the two labourers. (Fig. 6.) The double function of the line as descriptive contour, and as autonomous element, eventually led to its complete independence in the pictorial process, as may be seen in Kandinsky’s later works.

A further important influence of the early years in Murnau, where Gabriele Münter was persuaded by Kandinsky to buy a house in the summer of 1909, should also be mentioned here. In the wake of the enthusiasm for primitive art, which was a marked featrure of the European avant-garde at the beginning of the 20th century, the Der Blaue Reiter artists too discovered folk art in the form of the naively charming Hinterglasmalerei (back-painted glass). Apparently it was Jawlensky who first drew attention to the comprehensive collection of over 1000 Bavarian and Bohemian examples of this type of artefact assembled by the Murnau brewer, Johann Kroetz, which is now in the Oberammergau Museum. Impressed by the simple elegance, radiant colours and immediacy of this folk art, Jawlensky drew the attention of his friends to them; Gabriele Münter in turn was the first to copy such works from earlier examples and also to learn the Terch technique of melding glass from a glass painter who was at that time still active in Murnau. Kandinsky, and later Franz Marc, August Macke and Heinrich Campendonk, all applied themselves to this type of folk art in the following years, often with great enthusiasm.

The artists soon began assiduously to collect glass pictures, religious folk art and peasant handwork. Kandinsky and Münter not only furnished their house in Murnau with a large number of such objects, but also painted some of their own furniture with simple motifs. Kandinsky, for example, decorated the wooden stairway of the house with a design showing riders springing upwards between sun motifs and flowers. (Fig. 7.) In their flat in the Ainmillerstrasse in Munich, the walls were also covered with glass pictures and Gabriele Münter grouped a number of madonnas and saints and other wood carvings on a small table, regularly altering the arrangement. (Fig. 8.) These small, but expressive objects of folk art now began to appear in Münter’s still-lifes, to which they impart a special aura of spirituality. The outstanding Dark Still-Life (Secret) has its inspiration in the crepuscular light of her Schwabing flat. In the dimly lit interior it is possible to identify the little table with the madonna figures, a chicken made of stone, a bakerglas painted by Münter herself and, on the wall, a glass picture with two figures of saints. In another Still-Life with Saint George, Münter merges a glass picture of the saint on a horse with the diffuse, dark background to the point of unrecognizability. (Fig. 9.)

Saint George, as patron saint of Murnau omnipresent in the town’s open spaces and in its glassware, was also frequently a subject for Kandinsky, inter alia in his large, almost abstract oil paintings, as well as in watercolours, woodcuts and glass pictures.

From 1911 onwards, Kandinsky was inspired by the naive anti-naturalistic depictions in the folk art of glass painting. His work shows how much he was attracted to their simple draughtsmanship and their religious motifs. Apart from the simplicity of the depiction with its tendency towards stylisation in this type of "primitive" art, whose affinity to modern abstraction was noted by Wilhelm Worringer in his influential essay Abstraction and Empathy, what particularly attracted and inspired the artists was again the "spiritual" content and its symbolic potential.

In the extremely productive climate of the new artistic co-operation after the first Murnau stay, the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists’ Association, Munich or NKVM for short) was founded in Munich in January 1909, which was more or less the predecessor to the Der Blaue Reiter group. It was born out of the gregarious salon life of highly motivated, progressive artists who congregated in the salon of the "Giselisten" (Werefkin and Jawlensky) in the Giselastrasse of Schwabing. The founding fathers included Kandinsky, who assumed the Chairmanship, Jawlensky, Münter and Werefkin, as well as Adolf Erbslöh, Alexander Kanoldt and Alfred Kubin. During the year other artists joined, such as Paul Baum, Vladimir Bechtejeff, Erma Bossi, Moisej Kogan, Karl Hofer and the dancer Alexander Sacharoff, followed by the Frenchmen Pierre Girieud and Henri Le Fauconnier. In the founding document of the NKVM, one of the central preoccupations of its members was already evident, with its references to the "inner life" and the "spiritual elements" in painting, which should be created from a new, formal "synthesis" of expression, thereby transcending traditional objective representation of the visible world.

The public first became aware of the NKVM when it held its first exhibition in December of 1909 in Munich’s Thannhauser Gallery. The totally new approach of the art on show was regarded as a provocation and drew angry protests from the press. Similary incomprehensible to most must have been Kandinsky’s poster for the show, with its two figures scarcely recognizable as such. The second exhibition of the NKVM in autumn 1910 likewise attracted a storm of protest in the local press, the works being characterised inter alia as "incurably insane", "shameless imposture" and "sensation seeking". However this show was seen by Franz Marc, who had observed the pioneering activities of the NKVM from a distance since its foundation, and had welcomed it as having parallel ideas to his own. Because of the press polemics, he felt obliged to write a defence of the show, a copy of which he sent to Adolf Erbslöh, the Secretary of the NKVM, and in this way came into personal contact with the group. Franz Marc had been born in Munich in 1860, the son of the painter Wilhelm Marc, and had studied at the Munich Academy under Gabriel Hackl and William von Diez, who at that time nurtured their pupils in the tradition of restrained naturalism and atmospheric plein air painting. Shortly after his studies, like Kandinsky in his early days, he began to develop his own painterly relationship with the world of nature, from 1902 visiting the Alpine foothills of Bavaria for longish periods in pursuit of this aim. Early on he began to concentrate on depictions of animals, which became increasingly identified in his mind with an animal purity and innocence that was lacking in man. After a naturalistic beginning, by 1909–1910 he was getting closer to his aim of "animalising art". The declaration he made about his art at this time is certainly apposite, for instance, to his picture entitled Deer in the Snow, (Fig. 10.) where the gently rounded body of the animal fits organically into the contours of an ornamentally conceived landscape: "I seek to heighten my sensitivity to the organic rhythm in all things, and to achieve a pantheistic empathy with the trembling and streaming of the blood in nature, in trees, in animals, in the air."

In this phase of his art, oscillations or parallelisms in the line make the "circulation of blood" in the bodies of animals visible. Nevertheless the decisive impulse for the development of his individual style was given by his meeting with Kandinsky at the beginning of 1911, from which one of the most fertile and inspiring artistic friendships of the 20th century was to develop. In February 1911, Franz Marc also became a member of the NKVM. A picture such as Blue Horse I, with its spare, abstract forms, its almost pathos-filled elevation of the animal and the complete abandonment of the colouring of its original in the natural world in favour of symbolic colour, all these elements show vividly the change that Marc’s art underwent in this decisive year. (Fig. 11.) The idiosyncratic effect of his later animal pictures, in which animal creatures seem to become spiritual entities integrated into a dematerialised cosmos, is here already as developed as his complicated theory of colours. In this respect he agreed with Kandinsky about the role of the colour blue as symbolic of the spiritual, of victory over the material world; the use of this colour thus represented a way in which one of the aims of their art might be formulated, aims towards which both, in their different ways, were striving.

Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc soon became friends and visited each other in Murnau and Sindelsdorf, where Franz Marc had settled in 1910 with his partner Maria Franck. In the early summer of 1911 they were already making plans for the publication of an art almanac, to which shortly afterwards the title Der Blaue Reiter was given. In its pages, artists (painters, writers on art and musicians) from home and abroad were to find a forum for their exclusive use, devoted to the cause of formulating a new kind of art. In pursuit of this aim, Arnold Schönberg and Thomas von Hartmann were invited to submit articles, while each issue was liberally provided with illustrations. For the first time it was possible to view in a modern setting works from totally different artistic milieux and periods, as also "high art" and "primitive" or folk art, compared with each other through their pointed juxtaposition. For the book which appeared in May 1912, Kandinsky supplied the woodcut on the title page, derived from one of his glass paintings showing the motif of Saint George as the killer of the dragon and liberator. (Fig. 12.) The Christian knight and dragon-slayer sits on his rearing white horse protected by his shield and wearing a curious headgear; beneath him writhes the dragon, whose scaly tail rears up; to the right, in the foreground, the diminutive, bound figure of the biblical princess gazes up at her liberator. As a "Blaue Reiter", Saint George becomes here the symbol of a movement dedicated to renewal, to the overcoming and dissolution of the old world that is trapped in materialism through the cleansing power of the spirit. This healing message of a coming age of "great spirituality", in which Kandinsky had a visionary belief before the First World War, and which was to have a decisive impact on the art of the future, was highlighted in four passages of the Almanach, as well as in the article by Franz Marc entitled Spiritual Elements (Geistige Güter).

In the extremely busy year of 1911, as the Almanach began to take shape, Franz Marc also drew his friend August Macke into the deliberations surrounding it, thus creating another link that was to enrich the circle of Der Blaue Reiter. Macke and Marc had met a year earlier, in January 1910, and had been close friends since. August Macke, then only twenty-two years old, had set off in autumn 1909 to spend a year on the Tegernsee, together with his young wife, who hailed from Bonn. (Fig. 13.) At the beginning of 1910 he visited Munich with his cousin, Helmuth Macke, and the son of Elisabeth Macke’s uncle, Bernhard Koehler (a well-to-do Berlin factory owner and art collector); in the Brakl art bookshop he happened to see lithographs by Franz Marc and spontaneously decided to visit the artist (whom he had never met) in his studio. He soon received a return visit at the Tegernsee and both artists felt that they had encountered in each other true kindred spirits. The regular exchange of views between them and their discussions about art theory were also continued when Macke, at the end of 1910, returned to Bonn and are documented in their fascinating correspondence. Marc told his friend about the plans for the Almanach and invited him to the decisive editorial meeting in Gabriele Münter’s and Wassily Kandinsky’s house in Murnau in October 1911. In a lively passage of her Memories of August Macke, Elisabeth Erdmann-Macke recalls these days: "We four [i.e. together with Franz and Maria Marc] travelled to the town and were accommodated by Kandinsky in a large house near to his estate; subsequently the Blaue Reiter was born, in long meetings with artistic debate, proclamations, suggestions for prefaces, etc. They were unforgettable hours, as each of the men worked up their manuscripts, chiselled and altered what we women then loyally wrote up. Contributions came from artists invited to participate, and suggestions for reproductions ... Kandinsky himself was a remarkable and strange character, exceptionally inspiring for all the artists who came under his spell; he had something mystical and fantastical about him, together with a strange pathos and a tendency to dogmatism. His art was a form of teaching, a vision of the world."

In the course of 1911 tensions arose between the moderate members of the NKVM and the progressive forces around Kandinsky and Franz Marc; in particular the plans of the latter for the Almanach steadily distanced them from the rest of the group. In January 1911 Kandinsky had already written a formal letter to Jawlensky in which he resigned the Chairmanship, which was then assumed by Adolf Erbslöh. In December 1911, during the third exhibition of the NKVM, came the final break: the jury of the Association rejected Kandinsky’s important, and already almost completely abstract picture entitled Composition V, (Fig. 14.) on the flimsy grounds that it was too large. In Kandinsky’s pictures of 1911, with their increasingly encoded figural motifs, his expressive abstraction had reached its first high point. The large Composition V was inspired by the notion of the last judgement, whereby the sound of a trumpet seems to travel across the picture like a black whiplash. In the upper central part, a small rider may be discerned in front of collapsing towers – the same emblem that provided the title vignette for Kandinsky’s book On the Spiritual in Art, which had also appeared that winter. (Fig. 15.) After the rejection of the picture, Kandinsky, Marc, Münter and Kubin (who had been informed of events by letter) all resigned from the Association and hastily organised their own show, which as "Counter-Exhibition" to that of the NKVM took place from 18th December 1911 to 1st January 1912, likewise in the rooms of the Thannhauser Gallery.

This (later legendary) first exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter, its full title being (with reference to the Almanac) the First Exhibition of the Editorial Board of Der Blaue Reiter, showed a total of forty-three works from artists of the core group, as well as pictures by Albert Bloch, David and Wladimir Burljuk, Heinrich Campendonk, Robert Delaunay, Elisabeth Epstein, Eugen von Kahler, August Macke, Jean Bloé Niestlé, Henri Rousseau and Arnold Schönberg. The realistic pictures of the "naive" French painter, the late Henri Rousseau, were regarded by Kandinsky and Marc as equivalent to glass paintings or popular broadsheets, being thus the pole of "great realism" in contrast to that of "great abstraction". The Visions and self-portraits of the composer, Arnold Schönberg, with whom Kandinsky had been exchanging a lively correspondence after hearing a concert of Schönberg’s music in Munich in ealy 1911, were valued by Kandinsky for their uncompromising, autodidactic radicalism. In these works Schönberg broke with all pictorial conventions, binding his artistic creations of painterly dissonance, at this phase of his artistic odyssey, to his development of atonal music. (Fig. 16.)

At about the time of their exhibitions in the winter of 1911–1912, a photo was taken of some of the Blaue Reiter members on the balcony of Kandinsky’s and Münter’s flat in Munich’s Ainmillerstrasse. (Fig. 17.) Apart from Maria and Franz Marc, in the middle may be seen Bernhard Koehler, who had become the most important patron of the association, and who also provided a substantial subvention so that the Almanach could be published by Piper Verlag. He collected the work of all Der Blaue Reiter artists and assisted the particularly needy Franz Marc by accepting pictures from him against a monthly pension. Next to him may be seen the painter Heinrich Campendonk, who had come to Sindelsdorf from the Rhineland at the instigation of August Macke and worked there in close proximity to Franz Marc between 1911 and 1914, until he moved in 1916 to Seeshaupt on the Starberger See. On the outside of the group stands the Russian musician and composer Thomas von Hartmann, who had long been befriended with Kandinsky and who, since 1909, had been developing with him his plans for stage settings, in which colour, sound and action were to be integrated into a Gesamtkunstwerk.

From February until April 1912 another exhibition of the Blaue Reiter was held in Munich in Hans Goltz’s gallery, which showed exclusively graphics under the title Black and White. With over 300 items it was extremely wide-ranging and included this time other avant-garde artists, for example the Frenchmen André Derain, Pablo Picasso and Maurice Vlaminck, the Russians Natalia Gontscharowa, Michael Larionov and Kasimir Malewitsch, as well as painters of Die Brücke (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Mueller, Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde). Also Paul Klee, who at that time was working almost exclusively as draughtsman and only later was to embark on oil painting, was represented here with the considerable number of 17 drawings. Through shared artistic enthusiasms, and also as neighbour to Kandinsky in the Ainmillerstrasse, he became close to the latter; right from the beginning, notwithstanding all the differences between them, their relationship was one of great personal and artistic mutual esteem.

In early 1912 the first signs of discord began to appear in the Association, initially the result of personality clashes, but later extending to organisational and artistic issues. When the great Sonderbund exhibition was being held in Cologne between May and September of 1912, this being the most important avant-garde exhibition in Germany before the First World War, the Blaue Reiter group felt that they had not being allowed sufficient representation; they therefore staged a further Blaue Reiter show in Herwarth Walden’s Sturm Gallery Berlin, where they exhibited the pictures rejected by the Sonderbund. This exhibition renewed their closeness with their former colleagues, Alexei Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin, who had resigned with them from the NKVM in December 1911. While the NKVM was disbanded shortly thereafter, Jawlensky’s and Werefkin’s pictures were now included in the Berlin show. In addition, further important works by Jawlensky were included in the first touring exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter, which, as late as 1914, travelled as far as Trondheim and Göteborg.

The Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, which showed inter alia many new works of the French Cubists, also provided Franz Marc and August Macke with considerable inspiration. A picture like Franz Marc’s Tiger (1912), (Fig. 18.) with its cubistically fragmented, transparent and radiant forms was a clear reflection of the new influences. In spite of the stylised interlocking of organic and inorganic matter, the beast appears in his bodily integrity, his springing power, his "essence", remaining inviolate, indeed being given extra dynamism. For August Macke also, the encounter with Cubism and Futurism was to prove indicative for the development of his ripe "late" works.

When the two friends and artistic colleagues, Macke and Marc, were confronted with the new paintings of Robert Delaunay on a visit to Paris in October 1912 (specifically the series entitled Windows that played sophisticatedly with simultaneous colour contrasts), these pictures also left a lasting impression on their work. Insofar as August Macke was captivated by the vibrant colour of Delaunay’s pictures, which seemed to follow autonomous rules in quite a different manner to the abstract sketches of Kandinsky, he now began to depart from Kandinsky’s fundamental principles.

When, in the autumn of 1913, August Macke left to spend half a year at Hilterfingen on the Thuner See, he did not take with him any of the pictures he had painted so far. The time spent in Hilterfingen was to be one of his most productive periods. In rapid succession followed his famous late works entitled Promenade, Woman in green coat, Fashion Window and Hat Shop, which unfolded the cosmos of his pictorial vision, a world of modern paradises such as parks, zoos or waterside promenades filled with visual magic. (Fig. 19.) Franz Marc, in the few years before the outbreak of the First World War, also brought his ripest work to fruition; the large and still rudimentary objective compositions such as The Bird or Struggling Forms (1914) brought him to the edge of abstraction, which for him however, as for Kandinsky, was always coupled with symbolic meaning. His last surviving drawings from his Sketchbook in the Field, dating to the war year of 1915, show the same complex mixture of figurative and abstract elements, where meaning seems to grow out of, and vibrate with, the materialisation of forms.

At the First German Autumn Salon in Berlin, organised by the extremely active gallery owner Herwarth Walden in autumn 1913 to show works of the contemporary avant-garde from inside and outside Germany, the artists of the Blaue Reiter, including Paul Klee and Alfred Kubin, were represented en bloc. Kandinsky had meanwhile progressed further on his path of large compositions, the peak of which was achieved with the works painted around the time of Composition VII in 1913. (Fig. 20.) With their emotional pathos mixed with painterly temperament, and the revolutionary fervour of their extraordinary, pioneering abstraction, these works are among the most significant in the art of the early 20th century.

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 put a swift end to all these activities and tore apart the circle of the Blaue Reiter. Kandinsky and Münter emigrated to Switzerland. In November 1914 they separated in Zürich; Kandinsky, who, as a Russian and an "enemy of the state" was forbidden to stay in Germany, returned to his homeland and spent the war years in Moscow. In 1917 he married there Nina Andrejewska and returned with her in 1921 to Germany, at the suggestion of Walter Gropius, joining him and the Bauhaus group in Weimar. Here he met up again with Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger, who were also working as teachers with the Bauhaus; but the times had changed completely. August Macke had been killed in autumn 1914 in Champagne, Franz Marc in early 1916 at Verdun. Alexei Jawlensky emigrated with Marianne von Werefkin, likewise to Switzerland, and spent the war years in St. Prex on Lac Leman. Gabriele Münter, after the parting with Kandinsky, went first to Stockholm and later settled in Copenhagen. Only at the beginning of the twenties did she return from Scandinavia and, after long years of personal crisis, once more settled in Murnau.

Through all these and subsequent years Münter faithfully preserved the pictures of their artistic friends and of Kandinsky, at first in a depot in Munich, from the Nazi period onwards and throughout the confusion of the Second World War, in the cellar of her Murnau house. On her eightieth birthday in 1957, she donated this priceless collection of pictures to the Town Gallery at Lenbachhaus in Munich, with this warmhearted gesture, making perhaps the greatest single donation in recent museum history. As a result of this donation, it is possible today, in a way not replicated elsewhere, to study and experience in the collection of the Lenbachhaus Museum the complete history and art of the Blaue Reiter at the place where they were created and had their being.


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