An art group inspired by the development of a movement that turned its back on classical academic art, Der Blaue Reiter, was a short-lived era. It was called so due to a belief common to two of its founders, Kandinsky and Marc. Blue, they claimed, was a colour that represented spirituality, and the rider symbolized the ability to move beyond that which is apparent. The Blue Rider might as well have been a group of loose-knit artists on their stroke-filled journey to nirvana!
When Art Nouveau first made its appearance, the artists associated with the idea rejected eclectic historical styles and instead focused on a more modern approach towards art. The use of monotones and linearity was applauded. Jugendstil, its German variant, caught the eye of a group of talented artists studying in Munich, where they decided to form the Die Brucke movement. During a span of eight brief but very happening years, they exhibited their work in nearly seventy shows, trying to rebel against the strictly orthodox methods taught in school.
Wassily Kandinsky, a German painter, was very influenced by these ideas, deciding to form a group of his own. The Neue Kunstvereinigung Munchen (Munich New Artists’ Association), however, soon gave way to the formation of Der Blaue Reiter in 1911.
Playing a central role in the group, Kandinsky’s personal ideas shaped the way the movement was perceived as a whole. He explored a more spiritual side to art, ensuring more thoughtful and profound pieces of abstract art as opposed to an imitation of natural objects. A big believer in artists projecting their inner beings through a transcendental medium of colourful expression, Kandinsky sought to experiment with colours and how various hues and shades affected the “mood” of a painting. He eventually shifted to flatter tones, learning to calm his fiery art in an attempt to brush out his personal evolution.
Franz Marc also gravitated towards abstract painting and sought to achieve a kind of enlightenment through his exploration of art as a medium of spiritual expression. He did, however, enjoy painting animals, which was one of the factors which contributed to the name of their group. Animals, he believed, were an “uncorrupted symbol of spiritual renewal”.
A 1903 painting by Kandinsky has been named “The Blue Rider”, but it is safe to assume the duo mutually consented to Der Blaue Reiter and it was not an egomaniacal stunt on the part of Kandinsky.
Art as a Religion
Der Blaue Reiter also focused on similar themes. Kandinsky and his colleagues wanted to further abstraction and imagination in their painting by dwelling on more mature, theoretical points of view. They fought the case for the use of concrete colours in art, and their importance when it comes to representing certain ideologies or philosophical manners of being.
Art in a wholly spiritual sense led the team to ponder over the deeper beauty that musical artists inspired in listeners. Kandinsky liked to view music as an evolved art style, appreciating how the intangible and invisible compositions could move people in ways stronger than the visual arts. Der Blaue Reiter sought to create a relationship between their abstractionism and the apparent formlessness of musical sound. For them, art was meant to resuscitate one’s inner being and to help it grow in understanding of itself and its surroundings. Kandinsky liked to think of his job as that of a kind of prophet.
The duo also published a booklet called the Almanac, wherein they added essays from many academics around the world, and reproduced paintings not in fashion with the greater European society.
The most famous of Kandinsky’s works was Composition V, an abstract painting where he experimented with color to depict flood, baptism, and an overall chaotic atmosphere. A painting that depicts no obvious hierarchy or visual depth, it is hard to classify this work in a hegemonic manner. Kandinsky himself claims to have gone through a very intense experience for the duration of the eight months he spent on the painting, claiming he “know(s) what undreamed of possibilities … color conceals within itself.”
Although it is hard to draw spatial boundaries onto the painting, the entire work itself is a dramatic expression of Kandinsky’s infatuation with religious themes exploring resurrection and death. He also carves out a niche for the archangel Gabriel, who holds a degree of power over life and death for humankind and is thus a central figure in the apocalyptic narrative. It was also this painting that led Kandinsky to form Der Blaue Reiter.
The group gained quite a bit of celebrity status, especially as their first show invited people to break boundaries to a more restrictive sense of traditional art. Their artworks were also featured alongside the likes of Munch and Van Gogh, and many wanted to join the group and attach themselves to their free-thinking concepts.
The artists of the group also consciously remained aware of other art explorations taking place around the world. The Cubist movement seemed to have been focusing on their expression of the form and shape just as Der Blaue Reiter was looking into a louder color palette. Differing in their ways of expressionism, they all nonetheless fell into a broader spectrum of Expressionist paintings and actively sought to study each other’s works.
Des Ende von Der Blaue Reiter
Due to the war, the group had to break up. Kandinsky was sent back to Russia due to his nationality, while Marc was killed on the battlefield after he volunteered to fight for his country. Many art historians claim that the works of Der Blaue Reiter paved the way for the Bauhaus, which was more than a group of loosely knit artists and established itself as a dominant school in the arts. Many remained inspired by Marc and Kandinsky’s efforts, and their painting sparked a debate on the meaning behind abstractionism and absolutism. Der Blaue Reiter might not have succeeded the war, but Composition V ensured Kandinsky’s resurrection time and again.
En.wikipedia.org. n.d. Der Blaue Reiter – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Blaue_Reiter>
The Art Story. n.d. Der Blaue Reiter Movement Overview. [online] Available at: <https://www.theartstory.org/movement/der-blaue-reiter/>
The Art Story. n.d. Der Blaue Reiter – Concepts & Styles. [online] Available at: <https://www.theartstory.org/movement/der-blaue-reiter/history-and-concepts/#beginnings_header>
The Art Story. 2021. Der Blaue Reiter – Concepts & Styles. [online] Available at: <https://www.theartstory.org/movement/der-blaue-reiter/history-and-concepts/#concepts_styles_and_trends_header>
Tate. n.d. Der Blaue Reiter – Art Term | Tate. [online] Available at: <https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/der-blaue-reiter>
Wassily-kandinsky.org. n.d. Composition V, 1911 by Wassily Kandinsky. [online] Available at: <https://www.wassily-kandinsky.org/Composition-V.jsp>
Moma.org. n.d. MoMA | German Expressionism Styles: Der Blaue Reiter. [online] Available at: <https://www.moma.org/s/ge/curated_ge/styles/blaue_reiter.html>
MoMA.org. n.d. MoMA | The Collection | Franz Marc (German, 1880–1916). [online] Available at: <https://www.moma.org/s/ge/collection_ge/artist/artist_id-3748.html>
Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Der Blaue Reiter | German artists organization. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Der-Blaue-Reiter>
Moma.org. n.d. MoMA | Inventing Abstraction. [online] Available at: <https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2012/inventingabstraction/?work=5>