The Blue Rider Group consisted of a range of artists located in and around Munich. It was founded in 1911 by Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. The group represented part of the German Expressionist movement. The group was around from 1911 – 1914, cut short due to members of the group, Franz Marc and August Macke being called into the military for World War 1. The after-effects of the war completely shifted the art scene in Germany.
The Blue Rider Group made art to explore relationships between art, colour, music and spiritualism. The group was formed in rejection of another German group called Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Association of Artists). They were interested in presenting art that showed their emotions rather than just doing literal scenes or realistic art. Although members approached their work using different techniques or subject matters, they all expressed spirituality through their uses of colour.
Information about the different members of the group:
- Wassily Kandinsky – He was the focal point and intellectual head of the group with his work becoming semi-abstract in 1912. After the war, he moved back to his home country Russia and was considered the inventor of abstract art over there as he introduced the idea. Although the name ‘The Blue Rider’ was believed to have derived from a 1903 painting by Kandinsky, at that time he hadn’t developed his colour symbolism theory yet and so this is rather unbelievable. Kandinsky was very important in the group as a theorist, publishing essays and an experimental theatre piece for the group, as well as his other visual offerings.
This woodcut, the cover for ‘Der Blaue Reiter Almanach’ portrays the groups’ aesthetics and ideals in an effective way. The use of the prehistoric woodcut technique shows the groups’ interest in the direct representation of Primitivism. The use of the colour blue represents spirituality and the rider symbolises mobility making this woodcut a visual manifesto of the groups’ important concepts (since the blue rider group didn’t have an actual manifesto).
- Franz Marc – He had a preference for environmental themes in his work – with a particular fondness for animals in their natural environment. His paintings became nearly abstract at the end of his life, sadly lost due to World War 1. During his artistic endeavours, Franz Marc developed a colour theory that ran parallel to Kandinsky’s, yet the two overlapped at points with the pair doing some collaborations together. Spiritualism was something Franz Marc explored in his work throughout his life, with a key idea of his being that animals were much closer to a natural state of spirituality due to them being at one with nature, while humans were too civilised to reach the same state of spirituality – animals were purer in spirituality than humans will ever be.
“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.” – Franz Marc. In ‘Yellow Cow’ pictured above, Marc through his colour choices was demonstrating femininity resounding in spirituality not being able to be silenced by the opposition.
- Gabriele Münter – She became companions with Kandinsky and they spent a lot of their time at a house in Murnau outside of Munich. This house became a common meeting point for the members of the Blue Rider group. Locals called the house the Russenhaus (House of the Russians) as a lot of the members came from Russia originally. Münter’s work often had black outlines with bright uses of colour and often have a compact perspective which creates a flat effect. The uses of simplistic shapes demonstrate her influence of folk art and children’s paintings. She never went completely abstract as she enjoyed doing figurative art that showed the reality of life.
The colours used in this painting by Münter are very delicate yet have a completely different effect when viewed against the black outlines. The black outlines and bold colours make this work similar to a colouring book page. The application of paint holds texture which with the colour selection works well. Different tones of colour in each section create dimension and make the work more realistic.
- August Macke – He was close friends with Franz Marc and went on various trips to different places with different members of the group. He also sadly died during World War 1. Macke was critical of the blue rider group in a humorous way.
Macke often painted forms cut into sections/fragments with common angular shapes and often focused on depictions of women doing different things. In the above painting, four women are gathered in a forest with high amounts of contrast between the subjects and the background which pushes them forward and makes the viewer focus on them. The use of the shapes in Macke’s work is often linked to cubism.
- Alexej Jawlensky – His style involves broad brush strokes and strong colours. At the end of his artistic life, he suffered from arthritis which made painting difficult for him.
The works of Alexej Von Jawlensky, including the painting above, have similarities to a colouring book due to the heavy black outlines and bold solid areas of colour to create contrast. He focused on head portraits a lot in his artistic endeavours to portray emotion, often using bright colours to show how colour can become the essence of one’s being. Expressive brushstrokes are shown throughout a lot of Jawlensky’s work. Although I know this is created using paints, the textures created do remind me of oil pastels which I find interesting.
- Paul Klee – Until 1914, Klee mostly did watercolour paintings and graphics in his very unique style. He loved to explore form and colour, both figurative and abstract but reduced to the essential. He did small scale work, sometimes miniature. Paul Klee’s exploration of colour began with the Blue Rider group. He became inspired by Kandinsky’s writing and so started an intense study into abstraction and colour, with the two going hand in hand at times. This made him a central member of the group.
The painting above is considered one of Klee’s first fully abstract works and exchanges familiar imagery into a balanced composition of different shapes coloured in a variety of mixed hues that make the piece very eye-catching. Although this piece is rather simplistic, the colours balance yet contrast in areas which makes the viewers’ eyes travel along the painting rather than just staying in one area.
- Alfred Kubin – His works were much different to the rest of the groups’ colourful explorations. His work is nightmarish and apocalyptic. His preferred medium was drawing ink mixed with watercolour. Out of all the members of the group, Kubin was the only one who wasn’t outlawed by the Nazis.
- Marianne von Werefkin – She joined the group at a later stage than other members. She focused on women and the impoverished in her work, showing how differently people were treated at the beginning of the 19th century. She often depicted the women in dark coloured clothes to demonstrate the harsh reality of women in her era with a splendid landscape.
This painting demonstrates the experimentation of the blue rider group that was semi-abstract explorations of colour and forms. Werefkin often had loose brushwork and uses of random colour which showed how artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch influenced her. I feel that the bright yellow highlights on her face work really well to draw the viewer in as a lot of the other colours are quite muddy and dark, so the highlights stand out and bring the painting together.
- Albert Bloch – He was the only American member of the group who moved to Germany in 1909. Kandinsky and Marc visited his studio and convinced him to join. He developed his own unique style, often incorporating harlequins and clowns dancing and playing instruments in his work.
This painting shows Boch’s connection to the Blue Rider group which has no visible foreground or background and makes it seem like objects are floating. This is to show the combination of the physical and spiritual world. The fruits have their own auras which shows how Boch was giving life to inanimate objects. The fluid and wavy lines also link to spiritualism. Albert Boch continued this style in his work even after the Blue Rider group ceased to exist.
Information learned from the YouTube video above:
- Many artists during the early 1900s wanted to take their art in a different direction, they didn’t want to just paint and sculpt realistic images. They wanted to express their feelings in their art and make viewers feel the same emotions when looking at their work
- The blue rider group came together to rebel against the way art was created and created a new art standard of creating work from within rather than from external sources
- They were a part of the art movement called German Expressionism
- They expressed feelings and abstract ideas that paved the way for Abstract Art. They wanted to express spirituality in their work, beyond reality and life as they knew it
- Blue represented a spiritual colour, part of the reason for the name of the group. The action of riding a horse represented the fact that they were riding beyond realism in art
In 1912, Kandinsky and Marc produced a collection of art essays with a woodcut cover created by Kandinsky. This was titled ‘Almanach Der Blaue Reiter’ and the name has only been explained with speculation, nothing was confirmed by the group. Franz Marc has always had a fascination with animals, in particular, horses which he painted a lot through his artistic career and Kandinsky had always been fascinated by riders on horseback, with one of his paintings in 1903 being titled ‘The blue rider’.
Influence of colour on the group:
Each of the members of the group had their own individual applications of colour but all used similar colours in a lot of their works, with blue being a popular colour for all of them. Colour allowed the group to be more expressive and allowed the artists to convey their spiritual feelings in their paintings. Their work was freer than other artists at the time and very eye-catching, no dull work was created.
The colour of music:
Synaesthesia – the ability to hear taste or smell colour introduced Kandinsky to the idea of using colour to represent physical senses. Each colour represented different parts of an orchestra to create a colour symphony in the painting. This was significant to Paul Klee in his progression to abstract art. Yellow – earthly colour, brighter yellow = chaotic feelings. Blue – calming and created balance with the yellows. Reds are powerful to represent drums or trumpets. Green – calmest colour to represent violins. Violet – melancholy and sad to represent horns or bagpipes. Black – represents the finale. Every placement of colour in Kandinsky’s musical pieces was intentional with some pieces taking him years to complete due to the deep considerations.
Artist and movement inspirations of the group:
- Robert Delaunay/Orphism – influenced Franz Marc and August Macke, particularly the way colour was fractured into different fragments of colour
- Fauvism – Gabriele Münter and Alexej Von Jawlensky
- Music – influenced both Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee
- Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh – Marianne Von Werefkin, influenced by their use of colour to demonstrate the soul
My reasons for researching The Blue Rider Group:
I decided to research into the Blue Rider Group as colour is an important part of my project and so since each member of the group explores colour in different ways, I felt that this would be good to inform some of my colour decisions rather than just making the colour choices up as I go along. I got encouraged to research the Blue Rider Group as a whole by my tutor after they heard that I was being inspired by Franz Marc and I feel that this was a good idea as although the group all have used colours to express particular emotions, they all have very unique styles and relationships with colour which is something that has always fascinated me – two artists focusing on the same subject with the same colour palette and materials very rarely, if at all, produce the same outcomes, each person’s art is completely unique and new and this is a concept which I love about art.