SEPTEMBER 4, 2016 – JANUARY 22, 2017
The present exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler is devoted to one of the most fascinating chapters in art history, which has become famous under the name of "The Blue Rider" and stands for a key aspect of the development of modern art. Prior to the First World War, from 1908 to 1914, an international group of male and female artists active in liberal Munich set out to radically reform art. Their aim was to liberate color from the compulsion to represent things, to divest line of its function of defining contour, and to free the plane surface of the illusion of objectivity. Rather than depicting visible reality, art was to lend visual presence to intellectual or spiritual content. This represented a change in the definition of Western art that would influence artists down to the present day.
The leading figures were Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, who met in early 1911. Both artists were revolutionaries who, often in face of vituperous opposition, pursued their aims undeterred. The legendary paintings by Kandinsky which marked his path to abstraction are on view here, as are many of the pantheistic animal depictions by Marc. Further personalities who were associated with Kandinsky and Marc, and whose works are displayed here, include Gabriele Münter, Marianne von Werefkin, Alexei von Jawlensky, and August Macke.
Der Blaue Reiter, synonym for a departure into uncharted artistic territory, was originally the title of a yearbook, the now-legendary Almanach edited by Kandinsky and Marc in 1912. It contained pictures and writings by a range of artists from different cultures and periods. Not a manifesto in the narrower sense, the volume's collection of heterogeneous works of European and non-European art, fine and folk art, was manifesto enough in itself. The two editors were convinced that since form and style continually changed, content, or “inner necessity,” was the sole criterion for creative activity.
The exhibition brings together more than 90 works from renowned international museums and private collections, including rarely shown masterpieces from the U.S. and Russia. A separate room sheds light on the development and character of the Almanach.
The "Kandinsky, Marc & Der Blaue Reiter" exhibition is generously supported by:
Hansjörg Wyss, Wyss-Foundation
L. + Th. La Roche Stiftung
Walter Haefner Stiftung
Irma Merk Stiftung
Communication partner for the exhibition: MANOR
CHF/ € 8
Art Club CHF / € 7
Length: 60 minutes
Available at the information desk in the museum
Murnau – Obermarkt with mountains, 1908
In Murnau, the artist couple Münter and Kandinsky found the ideal point of departure for regular excursions into the picturesque surrounding moors, the snow-capped Alps, and to the big city of Munich. They frequently depicted the streets of the town in the brilliant mountain light. Murnau – Obermarkt with Mountains conveys an impression of a midsummer afternoon, intensified by the luminosity of the colors and the interplay of light and dark passages. Light and shadow are clearly distinguished, and their flat, gestural treatment induces a dynamic, vital rhythm. The development in the direction of color effects that marked Kandinsky’s Murnau period, is especially obvious here.
Improvisation 10, 1910
In 1908 Kandinsky began to divide his large-format paintings into three categories: Improvisations, Compositions and Impressions. The two Improvisations of 1910, shown here side by side, are among the works that instead of reflecting the external world were intended to convey inward emotions. While Improvisation 10 provides a view of abstract, colored forms and lines as if seen from a distance, the color areas in Improvisation 13 appear close enough to touch. They seem compressed by force into the limited area of the canvas. In Improvisation 10 we have the feeling that the lines and suggestions of landscape (such as the rainbow and domed palace) provide resting points for the eye. Looking at Improvisation 13, in contrast, we can lose ourselves entirely in the pictorial space. The dynamic composition of areas and colors engenders an agitation that calls up associations with some dramatic event. On the other hand, the colors in Improvisation 10, contoured with black lines, shine out purely and clearly to the eye. When we compare the two works, the variety and richness of Kandinsky's abstract visual language become immediately apparent.
The Large Blue Horses, 1911
The numerous major works by Franz Marc which we can admire in the present exhibition include The Large Blue Horses. Calm and self-contained, the three majestic horses occupy nearly the entire picture field. Their heads bowed and eyes closed, they seem to exist in complete harmony with their natural surroundings. The deep blue is intensified by the brilliant yellow; the red horizon is interrupted by green, bringing it down to earth. By subtly juxtaposing and superimposing their parts, Marc has largely dissolved the horses’ bodies. Their curving movements echo the forms of the surrounding landscape, producing a tranquil rhythmical play of repetitions. Rather than a faithful representation of the animals, Marc has aimed at evoking their inner world. The large-format work was first publicly shown in late 1911, at the Erste Ausstellung der Redaktion Der Blaue Reiter (First Exhibition of the Editors of the Blue Rider).
For one last time, Franz Marc devoted a major work to his favorite subject – horses. The different views of the animals in their stalls are combined into a panoramic interplay of form that represents essentials without any attempt to imitate details. Rather than a precise depiction of certain horses, Marc’s concern was to render their intrinsic essence visible. For him, animals were a symbol of innocence and naturalness, to which he devoted a considerable part of hisoeuvre. The ornamental play of colors and the rhythmical, circular shapes reflect the influence of Robert Delaunay, whose paintings Marc saw at the first exhibition "Der Blaue Reiter" in 1911 and a few months later, on a visit to the French artist’s studio. During the war years, he abandoned animal motifs in favor of representing the universal harmony of nature in terms of entirely abstract forms and colors.
The wolves (Balkan war), 1913
"I really never have the urge... to paint animals the way I see them, but the way they are (the way they themselves see the world and feel their being)," wrote Marc in 1915 in a letter to his wife, Maria. This notion of a connection between the inner essence of animals and the external world is also the basis of the apocalyptic image The Wolves (Balkan War). The angular shapes and expressive colors of the surroundings correspond with those of the wolves, who appear to march like an army into the pictorial space. The disturbing effect of the devastated landscape with its harsh color contrasts is lent concreteness by the title and the associations it awakens. Thanks to the animal as vehicle of a perception of the world, the image reveals the threatening scene of the disastrous war that took place in the Balkans in 1912–13 and would encompass all of Europe in 1914.
Great Promenade: People in the Garden, 1914
August Macke and his family spent the last year before the outbreak of the First World War on Lake Thun. The pictures he painted there are suffused with a peaceful, even carefree atmosphere. As Elisabeth Macke later recalled, "It was probably the most harmonious, happiest period we spent together." The highly colorful and light-flooded composition of Great Promenade reflects this joie de vivre. It shows a few people of various ages out for a stroll, most of them viewed from the side or the back, giving us the feeling of being invited to join the scene. The tiny dabs of paint engender a scintillating play of color. This effect recalls Georges Seurat’s large composition A Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte of 1884–86. Yet the graceful forms, rhythmical impetus, and magnificent colors also reflect Macke’s interest in the paintings of his friend Robert Delaunay.
ALMANAC "DER BLAUE REITER"
"I have a new plan," Kandinsky announced to Marc on November 19, 1911, referring to the production of a yearbook containing works and articles by a range of artists. The two immediately contacted fellow artists working in every field, requested poets, composers and art historians to contribute, and wrote to museums of Oceanic, Asian and African art. Finally, in 1912, Der Blaue Reiter, was published by Piper-Verlag in Munich, an almanac in which samples of art of every kind, even children’s drawings, appeared side by side and on an equal footing. Initially three variants were printed: a "general edition," a "de luxe edition," including two woodcuts tinted and signed by Marc and Kandinsky, and a "museum edition," issued in ten copies supplemented by an original work by each of the artists involved. Regarding the title, Kandinsky explained, "[...] both of us loved blue, Marc – horses, I – riders." On the cover, the popular Christian saints George and Martin were united in the figure of the Blue Rider. Woodcuts became Kandinsky’s favored medium for illustrations, because "in them one finds the traces of my development from the 'figurative' to the ‘abstract’."
The First World War put an abrupt end to the plan of publishing an annual edition of Der Blaue Reiter. While Kandinsky was forced to leave Germany as an "enemy alien," not returning until 1921, Marc was killed in action in 1916 near Verdun.
"ÜBER DIE FORMFRAGE"
Both the votive image and the initial in Kandinsky’s article "Über die Formfrage" (On the Question of Form) relate to the passage in which he describes the positive, the creative, and goodness in terms of the metaphor of the "white, fertilizing ray." Hans Arp’s lightning-bolt "Z" obviously relates to the white ray leading from the Virgin to the afflicted man in the votive image, producing its own connection between the levels of image and text.
CATALOGUE "KANDINSKY, MARC UND DER BLAUE REITER"
For just a few years at the beginning of the twentieth century, Munich was the “hot spot“ of Germany‘s artistic avant-garde. Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc’s initiative as founding editors of the almanac Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) was a stroke of luck for the arts. The journal and exhibition of the same name made international waves when they heralded the start of the modern era in Germany before the First World War. Since then, the names of the movement’s key players Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter, Alexej von Jawlensky, August Macke et al., signal an essential chapter in the international history of art marked by the transition of painting into a vibrant, colorful and transcendental form of abstraction. This beautiful publication that dedicates itself to this topic will show a revolutionary re-valuation of the arts in an open Europe. (German edition ISBN 978-3-7757-4168-2)
DER BLAUE REITER: A CHRONOLOGY
Kandinsky, Münter, Alexei von Jawlensky, and Marianne von Werefkin spend a few weeks working in Murnau, on Lake Staffel. The experience of the Alpine foothills and Upper Bavarian folk art lead, especially for Kandinsky, Münter, and Jawlensky, to a turn to stronger colors and an emphasis on the plane: “After a short period of agony I took a great leap forward, from copying nature—in a more or less Impressionist style—to feeling the content of things—abstracting—conveying an extract. . . . All 4 of us were keenly ambitious and each of us made progress,” as Münter recalled in a diary entry for 1908.
The Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM; New Artists’ Association Munich) is founded by Kandinsky (chairman) and Jawlensky (vice chairman), along with others, including Münter, Werefkin, Alfred Kubin, Adolf Erbslöh, Alexander Kanoldt, and the composer Thomas von Hartmann.
Münter and Kandinsky rent a small Jugendstil villa on a hill in the western part of Murnau. On August 21, Münter buys what becomes known as the Russian House, where she and Kandinsky spend especially the summer months until 1914. The Murnau landscape, the house itself, the garden, and immediate surroundings become a key source of inspiration for the two artists. They frequently depict the view of the church and castle, as well as the mountains, from the window.
After viewing Marc’s first solo show at the Brakl gallery, August Macke, along with his cousin Helmuth Macke and Bernhard Koehler Jr., pays a spontaneous visit to Marc in his studio. In a letter written that same day to his future wife, Maria, Marc predicts that his meeting with the “gentleman from Berlin [i.e., Koehler, son of the prosperous entrepreneur and art collector Bernhard Koehler Sr.] will be promising.” In fact, over the coming years, the elder Koehler would not only support the publication of the Blaue Reiter almanac but would also help Macke, the future husband of his niece, Elisabeth, and Marc in particular.
After seeing the NKVM show, Marc writes one of the few positive reviews and sends it to the gallery owner, who publishes it as a catalogue supplement. As a result, Marc meets the NKVM members, except for Kandinsky, who is out of town.
Kandinsky and Marc first meet at the New Year’s reception held at Werefkin’s residence at Giselastrasse 23. Münter is also present.
Along with Jawlensky and Helmuth Macke, Kandinsky and Marc attend a concert of Arnold Schoenberg’s compositions in Munich. After the concert, Kandinsky and Schoenberg begin a lively correspondence.
Kandinsky tells Marc about his idea of publishing a book in the form of an almanac. “Well, I have a new idea. Piper must be the publisher and the two of us the editors. A kind of almanac (yearbook) with reproductions and articles . . . and a chronicle!!” The two develop this plan in the course of the summer.
In Sindelsdorf and Murnau, Kandinsky and Marc prepare the Blaue Reiter almanac.
The editing work continues apace, assisted by Macke, who has arrived from the Rhineland. As Elisabeth Erdmann- Macke recalled: “Those were unforgettable hours as each of the men worked out his manuscript, polished and altered it. . . . Everything was reviewed, discussed, accepted or rejected, not without little quarrels and frictions. . . . Despite everything, those days were incredibly exciting. . . .”
The jury of the third NVKM exhibition rejects Kandinsky’s painting Composition V for formal reasons, citing the association statutes. Kandinsky and Marc leave the association, followed by others, including Münter, Kubin, and von Hartmann. Jawlensky and Werefkin support Kandinsky while remaining members for the time being.
“The editors of the Blaue Reiter now become the point of departure for new exhibitions. . . . We will attempt to become the center of the modern movement,” Marc writes to his brother, Paul.
In the space of only two weeks, Kandinsky and Marc organize their own exhibition, Die Erste Ausstellung der Redaktion Der Blaue Reiter (First Exhibition of the Editorsof Der Blaue Reiter), presented at Galerie Thannhauser concurrent to the NKVM show. The catalogue lists forty-three paintings by fourteen artists, including Henri Rousseau and Robert Delaunay
Following the Munich premiere, Die Erste Ausstellung travels to Cologne, Berlin, Bremen, Hagen, Frankfurt am Main, and Hamburg. It tours through a total of eleven European cities until 1914.
Die Zweite Ausstellung der Redaktion Der Blaue Reiter: Schwarz-Weiss (Second Exhibition of the Editors of Der Blaue Reiter: Black and White), held at Galerie Goltz, Munich, focuses on drawing and prints.
The almanac is announced together with a four-page subscription brochure, which attracts considerable interest. The edition is increased to 1,200 copies.
The Blaue Reiter almanac is published by Piper, with the financial support of Bernhard Koehler. Kandinsky has made eleven different designs for the cover. Reinhard Piper requests that Kandinsky delete the word “Almanac” from the block of the woodcut selected, in order to avoid being committed to an annual publication. Preparations for a second volume take place concurrently.
Das neue Bild (The new image), a book by the art historian and NKVM member Otto Fischer, sparks a controversy that ultimately prompts Werefkin and Jawlensky to resign from the association.
Kandinsky and Marc continue to discuss a second volume of the almanac. Kandinsky predicts a publication delay, writing, “I believe that we will scarcely be able to come out with the second volume next winter.”
At the Sturm Gallery, Walden shows the Erste Deutsche Herbstsalon (First German Autumn Salon), which includes all of the Blaue Reiter artists. Marc and Macke help to hang the show, which is now considered to be the most significant gallery exhibition held prior to World War I.
Macke travels with Klee and his friend Louis Moilliet to Tunis. The trip has a lasting impression on all of them, as Macke writes to his wife Elisabeth on April 10: “We are lying in the sun, eating asparagus, etc. You only have to turn around and you have thousands of motifs. I must have already made fifty sketches today. Twenty-five yesterday. Things are going like the devil, and I am enjoying my work as never before.”
World War I breaks out. Kandinsky, Jawlensky, and Werefkin are classed as enemy aliens and forced to leave Germany. Marc and Macke are inducted into the army as soon as the conflict begins. All activity of the Blaue Reiter comes to an abrupt end.
Kandinsky and Münter initially emigrate to Switzerland
Macke is killed near Perthes-lès-Hurlus, France, on the Western Front.
Marc writes to Kandinsky, “I have the sad feeling that this war is flowing between us like a great flood that separates us; each of us can hardly see the other on the far shore.”
Marc, shaken, writes an obituary for Macke: “Anyone who has concerned themselves with the new German art during these past eventful years, anyone who has anticipated our artistic future, knew Macke. And those who [knew him and] worked with him, his friends, knew what covert future this brilliant man held within himself. With his death, one of the finest and most audacious curves in our German artistic development abruptly breaks off; none of us is capable of continuing it. Each of us goes his own way, and wherever we may meet someday, he will always be missed.”
Kandinsky leaves for Russia and first returns to Germany in 1921.
Marc is fatally injured by shrapnel while engaged in mounted reconnaissance near Verdun.
March After a final meeting in Stockholm, Kandinsky’s and Münter’s lives separate for good.
Kandinsky never returns to Munich or Murnau again. He becomes one of the leading instructors at the Bauhaus and emigrates to France in 1933, where he dies in 1944. Münter returns to Murnau in 1931, which becomes her main residence until her death in 1962. In 1956 she donates major portions of her unique collection of her own works, those of Kandinsky, and other Blaue Reiter protagonists to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich. Her residence is restored to its state between 1909 and 1914 and becomes a museum.