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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Der Blau Reiter

There is an old riddle along the lines of the light bulb changing jokes.  It asks, "How many people does it take to paint a portrait?"  The answer is three, one to pose, one to do the painting, and one to hit the artist over the head when he's finished.  And, like many jokes, there's a grain of truth involved in that an artist will often see endless deficiencies in his or her work and, given half a chance, will sometimes "work it to death" in search of perfection.  After reading about the three artists involved in Die Brucke one might similarly ask, "How many artists does it take to make a movement?"  And, if some of the art movements of this century are any indication, the number might again be three.  The German Expressionist movement known as Der Blaue Reiter is an interesting case in point.

Der Blaue Reiter, 1903, Kandinsky
Der Blaue Reiter (translated: The Blue Rider) was the brainchild of Vasily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Paul Klee, though there were actually something on the order of nine artists involved at one time or another.  Kandinsky was Russian, Marc was German, and Klee was Swiss.  The name had a complex origin involving the millennium, Saint George, the Second Coming, and something about the color blue being that of male principle spirituality.  There's more to it than that but it's not important.  Like Die Brucke, Der Blaue Reiter was about Fauve, non-representational color.  But unlike the Fauves and Die Brucke, Der Blaue Reiter was a much more diverse group linked more by Kandinsky's charismatic influence than by much similarity in style (other than Fauve color).

Tower of Blue Horses, 1913,
Franz Marc
 Kandinsky was a powerful expressionist whose work was a seminal influence for Abstract Expressionism, which he helped found in New York near the end of his life.  His painting, Improvisation No. 30, done in 1913, is typical of the type of work influencing Abstractionists such as Gorky and De Kooning.  Franz Marc's work in oils is characterized by heavily saturated color and simple, graceful, swirling curves as in his 1911 painting Tower of Blue Horses, which is often seen as a sort of logo for the entire group.   

Hammemet and its Mosque, 1914,
Paul Klee

Klee, on the other hand, was a watercolorist during much of his lifetime, painting careful geometric, abstracted landscapes, often of scenes out of North Africa such as his Hammamet with Its Mosque, painted in 1914.  These three, and their followers were the high-water mark of German Expression before the war when the capital of Avant-garde art moved from Munich back to Paris, Picasso, Braque, and Cubism.

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