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"The Blue Rider"

Five portraits

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"The Blue Rider" art association was one of the most stellar and impetuous, daring and short-life art groups in the XX century. It only existed for three years (1911 — 1914). At first, in an enthusiastic whisper, and later at the top of voice, they began talking about the synthesis of all arts and about subjectless paintings, the value of paintings by madmen and children, the self-sufficiency of colours and shapes, and the spiritual content of painting. Unique universal artists have united here, equally brilliant in work with brush and pen. The best representatives of the "new art" created the revolutionary almanac "The Blue Horseman", without any demand for fees or rewards.
Wassily Kandinsky. The Blue Rider (almanach cover page).
Art history books call the artists who created "The Blue Rider" Germans to a man, although even a simple list of their names impugns this fact. All of them, Swiss, Russians and Germans, gathered in Munich, the artistic Mecca of the early XX century, to study the basics of painting and permanently change them. These three years, one almanac and two exhibitions turned out to be important milestone events for each participant of "The Blue Rider" to different extents. They would look very different on the portraits of that time.

Wassily Kandinsky

The notable lawyer Kandinsky saw "Haystack" by Monet at an exhibition of Impressionists in Russia. He eventually left his professorship and came to Munich to study painting. He was more than 30 years old, he could do nothing yet and was a far cry from an artist.

Before and after "The Blue Rider", Kandinsky managed to start and take part in several grand projects in different countries ("Phalange", Munich New Artist’s Association, Svomas and Vkhutemas, Bauhaus). He lived 74 years, which was a unique luck for the artists of his generation. Thus, "The Blue Rider" was quite important, but not the only undertaking within his creative research.

Later, Kandinsky remembered these three years before the First World War: "The blue rider is the two of us, Franz Marc and I." The almanac was the starting point: Kandinsky and Marc, who were carried away by the search for connections between music, theatre and painting, conceived to introduce these links to the new avant-garde magazine. They dreamed to publish it in Munich, Paris and Moscow. They also had no problems with the name: "We both liked the blue colour. I liked riders, and Marc liked horses."

It was Kandinsky who raved about the idea of great synthesis and "pure" emotional art; it was he who wrote the book "Concerning the Spiritual in Art", it was he who dreamed of placing the Russian lubok and Bavarian underglass painting on a par with Academic art, it was his painting "Improvisation" that shocked Franz Marc at the exhibition of the New Munich Artist’s Association. Finally, Kandinsky was the first in the history of world art to create an abstract picture. He could selflessly grow potatoes and flowers in the quiet town of Murnau, as well as organize avant-garde exhibitions in Munich, the city of "philosophical art", with the same passion.
Wassily Kandinsky. First abstract watercolor
Wassily Kandinsky. Landscape with red spots
  • Wassily Kandinsky. The First Abstract Painting
  • Wassily Kandinsky. Landscape
    The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
    With Red Spots

Franz Marc

Franz Marc was the only person in Bavaria who accepted and understood the exhibition of the "New Artist’s Association" in 1910. Every evening after the closing of the gallery, its owner had to clean the paintings, because they were all covered with spits. Nevertheless, the young artist Marc from a tranquil country sent a letter to Kandinsky, in which he admired the courage and strength of the works presented at the exhibition.

They did not meet then — it would only happen a year later. During this time, from 1910 to 1911, Marc already found his way, successfully held his first solo exhibition and acquired a patron collector who paid the artist a monthly fee for the right to be the first to buy his pictures.

Marc was inspired by Kandinsky’s ideas about the "synthetic book". He became the second chief editor of the future almanac and wrote three small essays to open the magazine.
  • Franz Marc.
  • Franz and Maria Marc, Bernhard Köhler, Heinrich Campendonk, Thomas de Hartmann and Wassily Kandinsky
Marc’s art is unique; it can hardly be classified or confined with any narrow terms. The artist who painted animals during all his life, regarding them as a symbol of purity and harmony, was neither a pure animal painter, nor a pure Expressionist. He did not view the animals with distant eyes, he rather viewed the world through the eyes of animals. He did not seek a breaking or tension in the plots, he rather yearned for harmony lost by man and seeks "the inner truth of things".
"The Blue Rider" was the two of us, Franz Marc and I. My friend died, and I did not want to do anything alone," Kandinsky said in response to an offer by a German publisher to publish the almanac after the war. "The Blue Rider" died with Marc in a terrible battle of Verdun (see Marc’s biography).

Paul Klee

Before "The Blue Rider", Paul Klee was an alone artist, unrecognized by anyone, including himself. Even after he graduated from the Munich Academy of Arts, read hundreds of books about painting and began to paint himself, Klee continued to live in quiet Switzerland and work in a municipal orchestra. He made painting his timid dream and a fascinating experiment.

Throughout all his life, Klee found himself within very powerful currents and ideas, but he always remained a unique artist, unaffected by any influences. The short period of "The Blue Rider" did not become an exception. After moving from Bern to Munich, the artist finally got surrounded by like-minded people. The most intense artistic life raged here, in Munich (no longer in Paris) in those years. It is in the Bavarian capital that an avalanche of new "pure" art blew down the framework of academic stagnation and blurred the boundaries between times and countries.

Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky were classmates at the Munich Academy of Arts, then participants of "The Blue Horseman" group, and a few years later they taught at the famous Bauhaus. They made amusing conversations about the fate of contemporary art, and they loved to play music together: Kandinsky played piano, and Klee played violin.

Paul Klee. Colors and shapes
Paul Klee. Memory of the garden
  • Paul Klee. Colour Shapes
  • Paul Klee. Memory of a Garden

August Macke

August Macke did not have time for numerous projects and artistic movements, he only lived for 27 years and died during the First World War. His entire short creative biography can be divided into two parts: before and during "The Blue Rider" period. The period after "The Blue Rider" already ran without Macke.

In his early youth, he traveled a lot and made sketches in watercolor, pencil, pastel — as if he had a long and sweet preparation to a future big business. If Macke managed to live a little more and win back a little time from history, he could certainly talk about his own genre, a sketch album. Macke created 78 of them during the period before "The Blue Rider".

August Macke. Promenade
August Macke. The woman in the green jacket
  • Augest Macke. Promenade
  • August Macke. Woman in a Green Jacket
All the valuable works by Macke, which are exhibited in museums and sold for millions at modern auctions, were painted during "The Blue Rider" period.
August Macke. Red house in a Park
August Macke. Colored shapes
  • August Macke. Red house in a Park
  • August Macke. Coloured Forms

Trips, sketches and paintings by Macke were not as valuable for "The Blue Rider" as his friendship with Franz Marc. They were quite different; Macke was emotional and quick-tempered, while Marc was rather thoughtful and silent. However, they worked together, they wrote impatient letters to each other like departed lovers, they inspired each other and found their own place in art through their disputes. The brilliant quotes of Franz Marc about colour, shape and painting are all taken from the correspondence with Macke. The "Paradise" fresco (the photo to the left) they painted together in the house of Macke, probably experiencing the next to heavenly state from their joint creativity.

"His death has suddenly broken the most beautiful and courageous turn of German artistic development; no one is able to continue it. ― His decease must fade the harmony of colours in many melodies of German art, and make the sound muffled and dry. It was he among all of us who gave the colour its brightest and purest sound, as bright and pure as his whole being was," Franz Mark wrote an obituary dedicated to his friend. In a few years he died at the same war.

Marianne von Werefkin and others

Perhaps, "The Blue Rider" would never be what it was, if it wasn’t for Marianne von Werefkin. She was a disciple of Repin, a Russian heiress, an artist who had not only a talent, but also a virile analytic mind, art history skills and speaker’s gift. She came to the German town of Murnau with a clear idea of "pure" emotional art, with her unerringly bold and untimely view of the works by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch, and she discussed the art development with Kandinsky, she interpreted the newest and boldest pictures by new artists all day long. In her "Pink Salon", she hosted the directors of German galleries and avant-garde artists, Russian dancers and German composers. Marianne von Werefkin became the most convincing preacher of the new art to German artists.
Marianne von Werefkin. Autumn
Autumn
1907, 55×74 cm
Marianne von Werefkin and her lover Alexej von Jawlensky were Kandinsky’s colleagues in the "New Artist’s Association". They joined "The Blue Rider" as soon as the work on the almanac had started. Marianne believed in Jawlensky’s exceptional gift so much that she left painting for ten years and raised a genius in him.
If we had to paint a group portrait of the participants of the artistic association "The Blue Rider", there would be much more characters than these five. Gabriele Münter, Alfred Kubin, Heinrich Campendonk and Lyonel Feininger also took part in exhibitions and in the generation of content for the almanac. But their figures are not so carefully drawn and are still waiting for the history and collectors to have a little inspiration for them.

The main illustration: Franz Marc, "Saint Julien", 1913, watercolor, gouache, bronze powder, paper, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York City.

See also: a selection of works by the artists of "The Blue Rider" group.
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