Der Blaue Reiter
Summary of Der Blaue Reiter
One of the two pioneering movements of German Expressionism, Der Blaue Reiter began in Munich as an abstract counterpart to Die Brücke's distorted figurative style. While both confronted feelings of alienation within an increasingly modernizing world, Der Blaue Reiter sought to transcend the mundane by pursuing the spiritual value of art. Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter were the theoretical centers of the group, which included a number of Russian immigrants and native Germans. This internationalism led the group to mount several traveling exhibitions during their brief tenure, making them an indispensable force in the promotion of early avant-garde painting.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Though Der Blaue Reiter had no official manifesto, Kandinsky's treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1910) laid out several of its guiding principles. Concerning the Spiritual crystallized the group's pursuit of non-objective or abstract painting and was widely read in avant-garde artistic circles across Europe and beyond.
- Der Blaue Reiter painting was structured around an idea that color and form carried concrete spiritual values. Thus, the move into abstraction resulted partly from radically separating form and color into discrete elements within a painting or applying non-naturalistic color to recognizable objects. The name "Der Blaue Reiter" referred to Kandinsky and Marc's belief that blue was the most spiritual color and that the rider symbolized the ability to move beyond.
- In searching for a language that would express their unique approach to abstract visual form, the artists of Der Blaue Reiter drew parallels between painting and music. Often naming their works Compositions, Improvisations, and Études (among other things), they explored music as the abstract art par excellence, lacking as it does a tangible or figurative manifestation. This also led them to explore notions of synesthesia, the crossing or "union" of the senses in perceiving color, sound, and other stimuli.
- Beside its own groundbreaking artists, Der Blaue Reiter's traveling exhibitions featured the leading proponents of Fauvism, Cubism, and the Russian avant-garde, creating a vital central European forum for the development and proliferation of modern art.
Overview of Der Blaue Reiter
In January of 1909, Wassily Kandinsky proposed forming a new group of like-minded artists in opposition to traditional exhibition venues, the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artists' Association), a secession movement that contained several future members of Der Blaue Reiter. The founders included Kandinsky's Russian compatriots Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin, as well as the Germans Gabriele Munter, Alexander Kanoldt, and the German-American Adolf Erbsloh. Aside from their desire to "secede" from the mainstream art institution and their dedication to modern art, these artists shared an expressionistic visual style culled partly from the example of Fauvism and partly from turn-of-the-century Symbolism, as exemplified by artists like Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt.
Important Art and Artists of Der Blaue Reiter
A founding member of the Neue Künstvereinigung Munchen (NKvM), Marianne von Werefkin later joined Der Blaue Reiter. Her Self-Portrait of 1910 exemplifies the experimentation of the former group and the semi-abstract manipulation of form and color that would develop in the latter. Her loose, dynamic brushwork shows the early influence of Vincent van Gogh on the NKvM artists and her use of arbitrary color is reminiscent of their study of Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch. Indeed, the haunting tone she culled from her choice of clashing, vibrant hues, the flattened space of her composition, and the figure's confrontational red-eyed gaze carry all the emotional and symbolic weight of Munch's The Scream, while demonstrating several elements that prefigured the expressionistic painting of Der Blaue Reiter.
The name Der Blaue Reiter is widely considered to derive from a 1903 Symbolist canvas by Kandinsky. However, when Kandinsky painted that early canvas, perhaps indebted more to Gustav Klimt or Les Nabis, he had not yet developed the theory of color symbolism he would publish in Concerning the Spiritual in Art. His woodcut cover for Der Blaue Reiter's almanac (published in 1912) is thus more in keeping with the movement's aesthetic and ideals. First, the choice of the bold, flat, "primitive" woodcut format reveals Der Blaue Reiter's focus on direct representation and interest in Primitivism. The choice of the semi-abstract "blue rider," with the color blue symbolizing intense spirituality and the rider symbolizing transcendent mobility, makes Kandinsky's print into a visual manifesto of his key concepts. Beyond his visual offerings, Kandinsky was central to the group as a theorist, and behind this cover he continued that role by publishing two essays and an experimental theater piece.
Before and during his years in Der Blaue Reiter, Marc developed a color theory that ran parallel and occasionally overlapped with Kandinsky's. In a 1910 letter to August Macke, he wrote: "Blue is the male principle, astringent and spiritual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, gay, and spiritual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the color to be opposed and overcome by the other two." In Yellow Cow, then, Marc portrayed his emblem of femininity, resounding in its joyous spirituality, barely able to be suppressed or even balanced out by the opposing colors that surround it. Marc was predominantly a painter of animals, and pantheistic "back-to-nature" groups, popular in turn-of-the-century Germany, influenced his idea of spiritualism. Taking a stance closely related to Primitivism, Marc considered animals to be closer to an innate, natural state of spirituality that mankind lost with civilization.
Useful Resources on Der Blaue Reiter
- The Blaue Reiter AlmanachOur PickBy Klaus Lankheit, Wassily Kandinsky, and Franz Marc
- Expressionsim: A Revolution in German ArtBy Dietmar Elger
- Kandinsky, Complete Writings on ArtBy Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo
- Art Review: Kandinsky and Schoenberg, Seen and Heard on CanvasBy Roberta Smith / The New York Times / October 24, 2003
- Back in the Blue Saddle, for a Gallop to AbstractionOur PickBy Karen Rosenberg / The New York Times / October 2, 2013
- Different Modernist Trajectories: Schoenberg, Kandinsky, And The Blue Rider at TheJewish Museum / By Richard McBee / December 26, 2003
- In the Mountains: Wassily KandinskyBy John Haber