THE EXPRESSIONISM OF DER BLAUE REITER
Located in a small village just outside of Munich, Munchen, the southern German Expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter, was broader in scope and more sophisticated than Die Brücke. Der Blaue Reiter was a more international group, with a more amorphous and changing membership. They were more ideological and more concerned with changing the world than Die Brücke. The group was more diverse in national backgrounds but was bound together by common ideals. Although these artists never developed a common style, theirs was a formal aesthetic, based upon the new formal possibilities of plane and line, creating a stylized natural form. The Die Brücke artists were more individualistic, refused leadership and resented Kirchner’s attempts to be the group’s spokesperson. But like Fauvism, this group was largely focused around one artist: Vassily (Wassily) Kandinsky (1866-1944), the dominant figure of Der Blaue Reiter. He was most closely associated with Gabriele Münter (1877-1962) and Franz (Frantsem) Marc (1890-1916); and with Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) and Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938). This group was later joined by Auguste Macke and the young Paul Klee.
The northern group was not in contact with Der Blaue Reiter in Munich (and Munich area) until 1911-1912, when Franz Marc visited Berlin. The two groups began and developed independently. What they shared in common was the journey thorough and away from Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and Art nouveau. Although Der Blaue Reiter was ultimately more influenced by Jugdenstil ideals which were still current in Munich, both groups had precedents in late Nineteenth Century German landscape schools at Worpeswede in the north and Dachau in the south, where artistic colonies and groups were established. Likewise, Der Blaue Reiter was interested in “primitive” sculpture as part of “quest for origins” and for alternatives to the outdated styles of the fin-de-siecle. These artists also interested in the art of children, art of the insane, naïve painting, all of this art came from untrained people. The Der Blaue Reiter artists, like most artists of their time had received traditional art training and were imbued with conventions. They needed to purify and to do that they had to get back to basics, whether it be the countryside or art making, and live in a small independent community.
By 1903, Kandinsky and Münter had moved from Munich, then the capital of art in Germany, to a small town in the country, Mürnau. Notice that the concept of the isolated art community was a German one. French artists may have vacationed in seaside towns, but they spent most of their careers in Paris, the capital of the art world. There was nothing like Paris in Russia, only Moscow, which offered limited opportunities for an avant-garde artist in the late Nineteenth Century. Unsurprisingly, Kandinsky and all the Russians, Jawlensky and von Werefkin, were in Munich by 1896, joined later by Paul Klee and Franz Marc before 1900. His little group complete, in 1901, Kandinsky founded Phalanx, a school of painting, but, due to a lack of a clear concept, it disbanded in 1904. Between 1904 and 1908, Kandinsky was in Sèvres, just outside of Paris and was a member of the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne, the best years of Fauvism. Fauvism ended in 1908 when Henri Matisse published Notes of a Painter, in which he indicated that he was changing his mind about the direction of his art. Indeed that very year, Matisse began teaching students who were, to his dismay, both imitating and misunderstanding Fauvism. He made the youngsters start over—-from classicism.
But Kandinsky was very impacted by Fauvism and his visits to the Stein collection where he saw additional works by Matisse, and the suggestion that line and color could have separate and independent existences, unfettered from the task of describing. Formal elements, far from being inert until activated by the artist, were expressive in their own right. Full of new ideas, he returned to Germany where Kandinsky and his associates founded the “New Artists Association,” (Neue Kunstlervereinigung), Jan 22, 1909 but the group disbanded, destroyed by quarrels over art. The Blaue Reiter group was held together by two things, the leadership of Kandinsky and their interest in color and alternative art forms. Otherwise, the actual work of the group is highly diverse: Franz Marc frequently focused on animals which were, he was convinced, capable of spiritual feeling, Gabriel Münter was interested in Bavarian folk painting on glass, while Kandinsky’s paintings were moving towards abstraction.
The group was renamed when Kandinsky and Marc founded Der Blaue Reiter in December 1911. Der Blaue Reiter was also an “almanac,” an illustrated yearbook of the current art scene, published by the artists in 1912, 1913 and 1914 editions. Der Blaue Reiter was also an exhibition of avant-garde art, which traveled about Europe, to Cologne, Berlin, the Hague, Frankfurt, etc. There were also two exhibitions in Munich, at the Galerie Thannhauser at the beginning of 1912 and at the gallery of the dealer Glotz in March 1912. In 1912, Kandinsky wrote Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which fused Theosophy and the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and Madame Helena Blavatsky on the universality of all elements. Like many of the art colonies in Germany, their intense interest in all things spiritual was paradoxical. The Blue Rider came to an end by the Great War when it broke out in August, 1914 and scattered the artists. Leaving Gabriel Münter behind in Switzerland, Kandinsky returned to Russia where he married his second wife. Tragically, Franz Marc was killed in action. Kandinsky and Klee were reunited after the War at the Bauhaus, where the now-mature artists were installed as master teachers.