The Blue Rider, or Der blaue Reiter is the most significant association of masters of fine art in the history of German expressionism. Formed in 1911, the group lasted only three years, but had a strong influence on the development of the transnational avant-garde movement. The Blue Rider painters worked in different styles, but were united by one ideology, which was the artist’s right to freely express his vision of the world in any form available to him.
“The Blue Rider” was a joint project of two painters: the German Franz Marc and the Russian emigrant Wassily Kandinsky. The driving force of the community was the ideas of Kandinsky, outlined in his book “On the Spiritual in Art,” where the author regards painting as the result of the artist’s deep work on his inner world.
The Blue Rider was officially formed in December 1911, although the idea of its creation arose in the summer. Twenty years later, Kandinsky recalled that he and Mark came up with the name for the new association while sitting over a cup of coffee on the veranda of a house in Sindelsdorf. The friends were united by their love of horses, riders and the color blue, so the name appeared naturally. The community’s activities began with an exhibition that opened at the end of 1911, where 43 works were exhibited.
In addition to the founders, the group included:
- Paul Klee;
- August Macke;
- Moise Kogan;
- Gabriele Münter;
- Alfred Kubin;
- Alexey von Jawlensky;
- Marianne von Werefkin.
The exhibition continued its work in January 1912, and then traveled throughout Europe for several months. At the same time, active work began on the almanac, which acted as a manifesto for innovators. Among its authors were not only masters of painting, but also musicians, writers, philosophers, and theater figures. All of them viewed art as a holistic phenomenon that required the destruction of barriers between its various types.
History and activities of the Blue Rider association
The collection was published in May 1912 and included fourteen articles, as well as reproductions of almost one and a half hundred works by artists. Ten of the magazines contained original work by the authors and were intended for sale to collectors. The paintings of innovative artists were compared with the paintings of past eras in order to show the ways of development of art. The authors cited mysticism, folk art, drawings of the mentally ill and children as sources of inspiration.
The main ideas of the community were proclaimed in essays by Kandinsky, Marc and Macke. Like-minded people firmly believed in the symbolic and psychological power of abstraction and considered art a visible evidence of the spiritual beauty of the creator, who should be absolutely free in his methods of self-expression. From the point of view of the authors, even impressionism is outdated, not to mention academic painting, and the path to the further development of modern art lies through the destruction of any obstacles that prevent the creator from hearing his inner voice.
The second exhibition of the community opened on February 12 at the Hans Golz Gallery in Munich, with more than thirty artists taking part. The exhibition featured watercolors, drawings and graphics in black and white.
The enlightened public enthusiastically appreciated the work of the innovators, but critics responded negatively to the exhibition. Kandinsky was disappointed and believed that he had not achieved his goals, since society was not yet ready to accept his ideas.
Franz Marc and August Macke
A great intellectual and admirer of German romanticism, Franz Marc was less inclined to sublime theories, although he had a brilliant command of the pen and wrote three works that opened the almanac.
In his paintings, the master depicts the world through the eyes of animals, where reality dissolves in images expressing emotions. The artist cannot be called an animal painter, since the animals on his canvases represent coloristic compositions that convey the passions and suffering characteristic of people. While in the group, Mark painted his most significant paintings: “Tower of Blue Horses”, “Tyrol”, “The Fate of Animals”.
August Macke, a close friend and like-minded person of Mark, was inclined to a bright and optimistic perception of reality. Macke’s paintings are distinguished by their urban orientation. His powerfully colored and sharply drawn cityscapes combine drama with a grace reminiscent of the work of French artists. The scenes on Macke’s canvases are imbued with harmony and a sense of joy, to which a certain note of bitterness is mixed.
The Swiss Klee, during his passion for expressionism, drew inspiration from primitive art. He expressed his ideas in one of the articles in the collection. For a long time the master painted only in watercolors and at the exhibition “The Blue Horseman” he presented works in this technique. Paul Klee knew how to show the material world in almost animated plastic associations; his paintings are distinguished by a certain intimacy and hidden tension. The name of the painter rightfully occupies a place next to the best masters of non-objective art.
Alexey Yavlensky and Marianna Verevkina
Jawlensky’s role as a theorist in the group is less significant, but in terms of the level of plastic language, his work does not lag behind Kandinsky’s paintings. Influenced by French artists, Jawlensky found his way into painting, which combined expressionism, cubism and the grace of the Parisian school. He managed to develop a unique style of color scheme, vaguely similar to the color scheme of the Impressionists.
Marianna Verevkina was Yavlensky’s friend for a long time, and returned to painting after a ten-year break caused by the desire to support her unofficial husband. Using tempera paints, she created colorful landscapes in her paintings that reflected her perception of the world. Even Kandinsky himself was influenced by Marianne during their joint sketches in Murnau. Verevkina is considered one of the most prominent masters of expressionism.
Other members of the Blue Rider association
A student of Kandinsky, and then his friend and companion, Gabriele Münter took an active part in the activities of the association and was involved in preparing the almanac for publication. The artist is known for her paintings on glass, which are considered her greatest creative success.
Moses Kogan is better known as a sculptor; he presented his graphic works at exhibitions of the association.
Alfred Kubin is a graphic artist and illustrator of printed publications who worked on phantasmagoric subjects.
The association ceased to exist due to the outbreak of the First World War. Macke died in the first days of hostilities, and two years later Franz Marc was mortally wounded. The emigrant Kandinsky had to return to Russia, Jawlensky moved to Switzerland. However, the achievements of the community seriously influenced the evolution of abstract art and contributed to the emergence of Dada and surrealism.