A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art

Ian Chilvers,

John Glaves-Smith

Blaue Reiter, Der (The Blue Rider) 

A loosely organized association of artists founded in Munich in December 1911 as a splinter group from the Neue Künstlervereinigung (NKV). It held only two exhibitions (poorly received by press and public) and was broken up by the First World War, but its brief life is considered to mark the high point of German Expressionism. The founders of the Blaue Reiter were Wassily Kandinsky (the driving force), Franz Marc, and Gabriele Münter, who together resigned from the NKV early in December 1911 in protest against its growing conservatism and organized a rival exhibition that opened on the same day as the NKV's last show (18 December) in the same venue (the Moderne Galerie Thannhauser, Munich). The new group's exhibition was entitled ‘First Exhibition by the Editorial Board of the Blue Rider’, a reference to an Almanac (a collection of essays and illustrations) that Kandinsky and Marc had been planning for some time and which appeared in May 1912 (it was originally intended to be an annual, but this was the only issue that ever appeared); the cover featured a drawing by Kandinsky of a blue horseman (blue was the favourite colour of Marc, who regarded it as particularly spiritual, and the horse was his most cherished subject; Kandinsky, too, often painted horses with riders, evoking ideas of medieval knights or warrior saints).

The first Blaue Reiter exhibition, which obviously had to be arranged at very short notice, featured only 43 works by fourteen artists. Apart from the three founders they were: the American painter Albert Bloch (1881–1961), David and Vladimir Burliuk, Heinrich Campendonk, Robert Delaunay, Elizabeth Epstein (1879–1956), Eugen Kahler (1882–1911), August Macke, Jean Bloé Niestlé (1884–1942), the recently deceased Henri Rousseau, and the composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), who was a friend of Kandinsky and Marc and a talented amateur painter. In March 1912 the exhibition travelled to Berlin to inaugurate the Sturm Gallery, and it was also shown (with some additions) in Cologne, Frankfurt, and Hagen. The second Blaue Reiter exhibition was held at the dealer Hans Goltz's gallery in Munich in February–April 1912. It included only watercolours, drawings, and prints, but was larger and broader in scope than the first show, featuring 315 works by thirty-one artists, among them (in addition to many of those who took part in the first exhibition) Braque, Derain, Goncharova, Klee, Larionov, Picasso, Vlaminck, and the artists of the Brücke group. This was was the last exhibition to bear the Blaue Reiter name, but four of the ‘core’ artists—Kandinsky, Klee, Macke, and Marc—were also represented at two of the greatest exhibitions of the era—the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne in 1912 and the ‘First German Salon d'Automne’ at the Sturm Gallery in Berlin in 1913. Although Jawlensky's work was not included in either of the two official group shows, he did exhibit alongside Kandinsky, Klee, Macke, and Marc at the Sturm Gallery in 1913 and he is generally considered part of the Blaue Reiter circle; indeed, it is to these five that the idea of a Blaue Reiter ‘group’ chiefly applies. Feininger, also, showed his work with this group at the Sturm exhibition.

Unlike the members of Die Brücke, the main artists associated with the Blaue Reiter were not stylistically unified, although their work tended towards the spiritual (rather than the more earthy concerns of the Brücke) and also towards abstraction. They had no artistic or social programme and no plans for communal activities apart from exhibitions. According to a statement in the catalogue of the first exhibition, their aim was ‘simply to juxtapose the most varied manifestations of the new painting on an international basis…and to show, by the variety of forms represented, the manifold ways in which the artist manifests his inner desire’. Their urge for freedom of expression, unrestricted by the normal conventions of European art, comes out clearly in the Almanac, which was dominated by Kandinsky's interest in the relationship between painting and music (Schoenberg contributed an article) and by Marc's enthusiasm for various types of ‘primitive’ art. In this last respect, it reproduced a remarkable variety of works, including folk art from Germany and Russia, Japanese prints, African and Oceanic art, medieval sculpture, naive paintings by Rousseau, and children's drawings. (This was one of the first instances of the reproduction of children's art; see Cižek.) The essential idea behind this outlook was Nietzsche's dictum that ‘Who wishes to be creative…must first blast and destroy accepted values’.

Further Reading

The Blaue Reiter Almanac (2005) [English translation of the original]Find This Resource

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