The Blue Rider

The Lenbachhaus has the world's largest collection of art of "Der Blaue Reiter" (The Blue Rider), one of the most important groups of avant-garde artists in the early twentieth century. The core of this treasure consists of the generous donation by the painter Gabriele Münter, who was Wassily Kandinsky's companion until 1914. On occasion of her eightieth birthday in 1957, she bequeathed more than a thousand works by the Blue Rider artists to the Lenbachhaus, among them ninety oil paintings by Kandinsky as well as around 330 watercolors and drawings, his sketchbooks, reverse glass paintings, and his printed oeuvre. The bequest also included more than twenty-five paintings and numerous works on paper by Münter herself and works by other eminent artists such as Franz Marc, August Macke, Paul Klee, Alexej Jawlensky, and Marianne von Werefkin. This extraordinary donation made the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus a world-class museum.

In 1965, the singular ensemble of the Gabriele Münter Foundation was augmented by a second important donation. Inspired by Münter's example, the heirs of Bernhard Koehler gave chief works by Franz Marc and August Macke. Bernhard Koehler Sr., a wealthy Berlin-based industrialist, had been the uncle of Macke’s wife; he had not only bought numerous works produced by the artists of the circle starting in 1910, but also lent financial support to its exhibitions and the publication of the almanac "Der Blaue Reiter".

Four years after Gabriele Münter's death, in 1966, the Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, which holds considerable archival materials concerning the art of the Blue Rider and supports the Lenbachhaus's collection by sponsoring acquisitions and providing permanent loans, became operative. In 1971, the Lenbachhaus also acquired the Kubin archive of the Hamburg-based collector Kurt Otte, which includes works by Alfred Kubin as well as the artist’s extensive correspondence with avant-garde writers and artists.

With the artists' association"Die Brücke" (The Bridge) in Dresden and Berlin, the Bridge circle in Munich was part of the most important movement for renewal in twentieth-century German art. In contrast with the figurative Expressionism of "Die Brücke"artists, the Blue Rider group, starting in 1908, developed a distinctive radiantly colorful, expressive, and partly abstract formal vocabulary; unified by the artists' shared belief in a "spiritual" dimension of art, it accommodated diverse forms of expression. Founded in 1911, the Blue Rider was accordingly a cooperative undertaking founded on the principle of diversity and sustained by the artist's unique personalities. In this openness lay its modernity, which is as compelling and contemporary now as it was then.

The Story of the Blue Rider

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Wassily Kandinsky read law and economics before moving to Munich in 1896, when he was thirty years old, to study painting. He began with a four-year course of training at Anton Ažbe's private painting school. In 1900, he became Franz von Stuck's student at the Academy for one year; in 1901, he joined other progressively minded members of the Schwabing scene to found the artists' association Phalanx, which held exhibitions and operated an art school. In early 1902, Gabriele Münter enrolled in his class. The two became a couple one year later; in 1904, out of consideration for Anya Shemiakina, to whom Kandinsky was still married, the two adopted an itinerant lifestyle that took them to Holland, Tunis, Dresden, and Rapallo, among other places; in 1906 – 07, they spent a year in Paris. During those years, Münter and Kandinsky primarily created small-format nature studies in a post-Impressionist style, using the palette knife and working en plein air. Kandinsky also produced an entirely separate oeuvre of works featuring nostalgic Old Russian motifs, mosaic-like colorful pictures into which he integrated aspects of Symbolism and "Jugendstil", among other influences. In 1908, Kandinsky and Münter returned to Munich and resolved to stay.

Alexej Jawlensky had met the painter Marianne von Werefkin at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, and she became his companion of many years. In 1896, the couple moved to Munich, where they were introduced to Kandinsky. They rented two spacious adjoining apartments on Schwabing's Giselastraße which quickly became known as the "Salon of the Giselists," where many progressively minded artists and visiting Russian colleagues gathered. Between 1903 and 1907, they went on several extended trips to France, where they were profoundly impressed by the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse. 

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In the summer of 1908, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter as well as Alexej Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin left Munich for the countryside at Murnau, where the two artists' couples developed a novel expressive style of painting. The event marks the beginning of the history of the Blue Rider.

Murnau's picturesque situation on a hill above a moor beyond which the Alps abruptly rise as a towering range, the intense light, and the colorfully painted houses of the village enthralled the artists. Inspired also by the most recent French painting — the works of Henri Matisse and the Fauves — the four friends experienced a sudden boost of creative energy. They captured views of the village and the surrounding countryside, painting spontaneously and as though intoxicated by the explosion of color before their eyes. The resulting pictures are distinguished by patches of unmixed luminous color set down flatly and side by side, compositions organized by two-dimensional structures, and a simplification of forms that verges on abstraction from the natural object being depicted. The artists returned to Murnau to work in 1909. They now also discovered the local popular reverse glass painting and religious folk art. Especially the works on glass with their glowing colors, simple black contours, and the "primitive" quality of the depiction proved an important source of inspiration. Kandinsky and Münter began collecting such objects and furnishing their home in Murnau with them. During the next several years, the so-called Russians' House would become an epicenter of innovation in art.

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After the fruitful summer Kandinsky, Münter, Jawlensky, and Werefkin spent painting in Murnau in 1908, the discussions about art among the circle of progressively minded artist friends who met regularly in Jawlensky and Werefkin's salon in Schwabing grew more heated. In January 1909, they decided to found an association they called the "Neue Künstlervereinigung München" (short NKVM, New Artists' Association Munich). Besides Kandinsky, Jawlensky, Münter, and Werefkin, its founding members included Adolf Erbslöh, Alexander Kanoldt, and Alfred Kubin as well as Paul Baum, Wladimir Bechtejeff, Erma Bossi, Mossej Kogan, and the dancer Alexander Sacharoff. Until 1911, the NKVM held annual exhibitions at Galerie Thannhauser, Munich, although the reviews in the press were scathing. On occasion of the group's second show, in 1910, Franz Marc publicly took their side, which led to his personal acquaintance with them, and he became a member of the club as well. Kandinsky and Marc soon formed closer ties and increasingly found themselves at odds with the group's moderate members. In 1911, they made plans to publish an art almanac that would bear the title "Der Blaue Reiter", or The Blue Rider.

The tensions within the NKVM proved irreconcilable in December 1911, when the jury of the group's third exhibition rejected an almost completely abstract painting by Kandinsky. He, Marc, and Münter resigned from the NKVM and quickly organized their own show, remembered today as the legendary first exhibition of the Blauer Reiter. The new association now united the artistic energies of this important innovative movement within German Expressionism; the remaining NKVM, meanwhile, dissolved within a year.

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After resigning from the "Neue Künstlervereinigung München", Kandinsky, Marc, and Münter presented the first exhibition of the Blue Rider at Galerie Thannhauser, Munich, in December 1911. The show featured around fifty works by the organizers and likeminded artist friends: by Albert Bloch, David and Wladimir Burljuk, Heinrich Campendonk, Robert Delaunay, Elisabeth Epstein, Eugen von Kahler, Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter, Jean Bloé Niestlé, Henri Rousseau, and Arnold Schönberg. The extensive second Blue Rider exhibition was on display at Hans Goltz's gallery from February to April 1912; it consisted solely of works on paper and included contributions by Paul Klee and Alfred Kubin as well.

After lengthy planning, the almanac Der Blaue Reiter came out in May 1912. In numerous plates, the book presented works of art from different eras and genres — Old Masters, avant-garde works, and "primitive," including non-European, art —side by side. With this selection, it vividly illustrated an anti-academic, open-minded, international, and tolerant vision. Painters, composers, and critics from different nations wrote contributions in which they articulated the goals of this new art. Kandinsky's and Marc's statements, in particular, express their shared belief in the "spiritual in art," and it is this distinctly philosophical element that sets the Blue Rider apart from other movements within Expressionism. These were the primary activities of the group, which may be more properly described as a loose circle of artists with a pluralistic profile. Jawlensky and Werefkin, who had not initially joined the breakaway faction leaving the NKVM, contributed works to the subsequent touring exhibitions of the Blue Rider starting in 1912; the Berlin-based gallery operator Herwarth Walden took a leading role in organizing these shows, which introduced audiences throughout Central Europe and Scandinavia to the Blue Rider.

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Selected works by artists of the Blue Rider

Robert Delaunay, Fenêtres sur la ville, 1914
Robert Delaunay
Fenêtres sur la ville, 1914
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Alexej von Jawlensky, Murnauer Landschaft, 1909
Alexej von Jawlensky
Murnauer Landschaft, 1909
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Alexej von Jawlensky, Bildnis des Tänzers Alexander Sacharoff, 1909
Alexej von Jawlensky
Bildnis des Tänzers Alexander Sacharoff, 1909
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Wassily Kandinsky, Reitendes Paar, 1906 - 1907
Wassily Kandinsky
Reitendes Paar, 1906 - 1907
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Wassily Kandinsky, Kochel - Friedhof und Pfarrhaus, 1909
Wassily Kandinsky
Kochel - Friedhof und Pfarrhaus, 1909
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Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau – Blick aus dem Fenster des Griesbräu, 1908
Wassily Kandinsky
Murnau – Blick aus dem Fenster des Griesbräu, 1908
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Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau - Grüngasse, 1909
Wassily Kandinsky
Murnau - Grüngasse, 1909
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Wassily Kandinsky, Romantische Landschaft, 1911
Wassily Kandinsky
Romantische Landschaft, 1911
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Wassily Kandinsky, Impression IV (Gendarme), 1911
Wassily Kandinsky
Impression IV (Gendarme), 1911
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Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation Klamm, 1914
Wassily Kandinsky
Improvisation Klamm, 1914
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Wassily Kandinsky, Impression III (Konzert), 1911
Wassily Kandinsky
Impression III (Konzert), 1911
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Wassily Kandinsky, Allerheiligen II, 1911
Wassily Kandinsky
Allerheiligen II, 1911
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Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau mit Kirche I, 1910
Wassily Kandinsky
Murnau mit Kirche I, 1910
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Wassily Kandinsky, Kallmünz – Gabriele Münter beim Malen I, Sommer 1903
Wassily Kandinsky
Kallmünz – Gabriele Münter beim Malen I, Sommer 1903
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Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 26 (Rudern), 1912
Wassily Kandinsky
Improvisation 26 (Rudern), 1912
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Paul Klee, Stadt R, 1919, 205
Paul Klee
Stadt R, 1919, 205
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Paul Klee, Waldbeere, 1921, 92
Paul Klee
Waldbeere, 1921, 92
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Paul Klee, Föhn im Marc'schen Garten, 1915, 102
Paul Klee
Föhn im Marc'schen Garten, 1915, 102
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Paul Klee, Rosengarten, 1920, 44
Paul Klee
Rosengarten, 1920, 44
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Paul Klee, Botanisches Theater, 1934, 219 (U19)
Paul Klee
Botanisches Theater, 1934, 219 (U19)
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August Macke, Hutladen, 1913
August Macke
Hutladen, 1913
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August Macke, Zoologischer Garten I, 1912
August Macke
Zoologischer Garten I, 1912
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August Macke, Türkisches Café, 1914
August Macke
Türkisches Café, 1914
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August Macke, Porträt mit Äpfeln, 1909
August Macke
Porträt mit Äpfeln, 1909
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Franz Marc, Kühe, rot, grün, gelb, 1911
Franz Marc
Kühe, rot, grün, gelb, 1911
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Franz Marc, Blaues Pferd I, 1911
Franz Marc
Blaues Pferd I, 1911
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Franz Marc, Zwei Pferde, 1908/09
Franz Marc
Zwei Pferde, 1908/09
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Franz Marc, Tiger, 1912
Franz Marc
Tiger, 1912
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Franz Marc, Reh im Klostergarten, 1912
Franz Marc
Reh im Klostergarten, 1912
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Franz Marc, Reh im Walde II, 1912
Franz Marc
Reh im Walde II, 1912
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Gabriele Münter, Das Russen-Haus, 1931
Gabriele Münter
Das Russen-Haus, 1931
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Gabriele Münter, Blick aufs Murnauer Moos, 1908
Gabriele Münter
Blick aufs Murnauer Moos, 1908
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Gabriele Münter, Bildnis Marianne von Werefkin, 1909
Gabriele Münter
Bildnis Marianne von Werefkin, 1909
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Gabriele Münter, Stillleben mit Heiligem Georg, 1911
Gabriele Münter
Stillleben mit Heiligem Georg, 1911
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Gabriele Münter, Jawlensky und Werefkin, 1908/09
Gabriele Münter
Jawlensky und Werefkin, 1908/09
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Gabriele Münter, Dorfstraße im Winter, 1911
Gabriele Münter
Dorfstraße im Winter, 1911
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Gabriele Münter, Kandinsky und Erma Bossi am Tisch, 1912
Gabriele Münter
Kandinsky und Erma Bossi am Tisch, 1912
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Marianne von Werefkin, Selbstbildnis, um 1910
Marianne von Werefkin
Selbstbildnis, um 1910
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Marianne von Werefkin, In die Nacht hinein, 1910
Marianne von Werefkin
In die Nacht hinein, 1910
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