“Der Blauer Reiter” or “Blue Rider” was an artist group started in Munich at the turn of the century. The members of this group are some of the most influential representatives of the avant-garde movement from the 20th century. Their artwork broke many different conventions.
Blaue Reiter Roots
Der Blaue Reiter started in Munich in 1911 as one of the two pioneering movements of German Expressionism. It was an abstract counterpart to the distorted figurative style of the Die Brücke group from Dresden (formed in 1905). Members of both of these groups confronted feelings of alienation in the modern world.
Russian immigrants Wassily Kandinsky, Marianne von Werefkin, Alexej von Jawlensky and German artists Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter, and August Macke founded Der Blaue Reiter in the early 20th century.
Der Blaue Reiter wanted to surpass the banality of everyday life and they sought the spiritual value of art. Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky, and Gabriele Münter were the group’s key figures. Other members included artists of German and Russian descent.
Multicultural and open minded
Being quite an international group, they organized several traveling exhibitions during their short tenure. This made them a fundamental force in the avant-garde painting promotion.
In 1909, Kandinsky became the chairman of The Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artist’s Association) group. He had issues with Charles Johann Palme and left the club, creating with other the blue knight. Der Blaue Reiter members were united in breaking with the rules from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München in Munich. Der Blaue Reiter considered that the principles of Munich New Artist’s Association were way too traditional and strict.
The idea for the name Der Blauer Reiter came during one of their stays in the Oberland region. Kandinsky wrote that they invented der Blaue Reiter while he and Franz Marc were sitting in the garden gazebo in Sindelsdorf. They both loved blue; Marc loved horses, while he loved the riders.
Another idea for the name can also be the one based on their beliefs that the rider symbolized the ability to move beyond blue was the most spiritual color. Theosophy was also important for some members of the group.
Blaue Reiter ideals
Modern abstract art tried to visually manifest spiritual ideals asserted through some wisdom lore and Theosophy teachings. The artists of this movement, including the members of Der Blaue Reiter, sought to paint what words could not express. Theosophy had an immense effect on the rise of modern abstract art.
Theosophy gave a vista to those artists; it became their spirituality’s crucial groundwork. They held that they could see into the natural world and beyond and understand cosmic principles and ancient wisdom. This vista gave them a sense of divine sight into otherworldly realms.
Sharing this knowledge became the main goal of their art. They were in between two worlds and considered themselves messengers. Artistic goals and approaches in Der Blaue Reiter were diverse among the artists.
Nevertheless, they all shared the same desire- expressing spiritual truths in their works became their common goal. They promoted modern art, understood in the union of music and visual art, the symbolic and spiritual associations of color. They cherished an intuitive and spontaneous painting approach.
Der Blaue Reiter’s artists were fond of primitivism and European medieval art, and non-figurative, contemporary French art scene. They were well familiar with fauvist, cubist, and Rayonist ideas; they all affected their embracing of abstraction. The main idea in structuring their paintings was that form and color carried concrete spiritual values.
Within a painting, they separated color and form into discrete elements or applied non-naturalistic colors. They explored and valued music, and named their paintings improvisations, compositions, or etudes. They explored the union or crossing of the senses in perceiving sound, color, and other stimuli.
Exhibitions of Blaue Reiter
During the period of 1911 and 1914, Der Blaue Reiter organized exhibitions throughout Germany. They also published primitive and folk art, an almanac featuring contemporary, as well as children’s paintings. They had an exhibition in the first German Herbstsalon in 1913.
The Heinrich Thannhauser’s Moderne Galerie in Munich held the “First exhibition of the editorial board of Der Blaue Reiter” on December 18th in 1911. The German title of the exhibit was Erste Ausstellung der Redaktion Der Blaue Reiter. It exhibited 43 works of 14 artists.
The artists included Franz Marc, August Macke, Elisabeth Epstein, Henri Rousseau, Wladimir Burliuk, Robert Delaunay, Albert Bloch, Gabriele Münter, David Burliuk, Wassily Kandinsky, Jean Bloé Niestlé, Eugen von Kahler, Arnold Schönberg, and Heinrich Campendonk.
The exhibition toured many cities throughout Europe during the period from January 1912 to July 1914. The cities included Berlin, Oslo, Budapest, Göteborg, Helsinki, and others.
The “Second exhibition of the editorial board of Der Blaue Reiter” exhibited works in “Black & White.” In Munich, the “New Art” Gallery of Hans Goltz (Neue Kunst Hans Goltz) exhibited these works. These exhibitions took place from February 12 to April 2, 1912.
The members of Der Blaue Reiter took part in Sonderbund westdeutscher Kunstfreunde und Künstler (Cologne, 1912). In 1913, Herwarth Walden organized Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon in Berlin in Der Strum, his gallery.
Der Blaue Reiter never had an official manifesto, but Kandinsky’s treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art gave some principles. This treatise defined artists’ desire to create abstract and non-objective paintings. It was also very popular among many artistic circles around Europe.
In 1912, the group published Der Blaue Reiter Almanach (The Blue Rider Almanac) in more than a thousand copies. Der Blaue Reiter Almanach contained 14 major articles and more than 140 artwork reproductions.
The outbreak of the First World War disrupted the group. August Macke and Franz Marc, key figures of the group, died during the war in combat. Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, and Wassily Kandinsky moved back to Russia.
Due to some different opinions within Der Blaue Reiter, the group fell apart in 1914. Despite being short-lived, the group left an immense impact on the artistic scene of the time.
Der Blaue Reiter today
Munich has always attracted artists from many parts of the world. At the beginning of the 20th century, it established itself as a Mecca for art. Its rural area was a great inspiration, and many painters developed unique forms of expression.
As a group, these artists traveled together and visited many places. They enjoyed the landscape around the Bavarian Alpine foothills and Murnau. Münter and Kandinsky had a villa in Murnau, where Münter lived until her death in 1962.
Visitors can still come to see the villa.
It was Gabriele Münter who managed to save many works from this period, while the Nazis destroyed the rest. More than 1000 works she saved are in the Städtische Galerie, an art gallery in Lenbachhaus. These also include the works of Macke, Marc, and Kandinsky.
The Franz Marc Museum, the Schlossmuseum Murnau, and the Museum Penzberg are also home to the saved works of Der Blaue Reiter artists.
If you are interested in seeing these paintings and visiting Münter’s and Kandinsky’s villa, feel free to book a tour. I’d be more than happy to guide you and help you learn more about the artists themselves and their works.