modernism in art

late impressionism through surrealism

Der Blaue Reiter


• SH essay, Der Blaue Reiter

• SH essay, Kandinsky, Apocalypse, Abstraction

• SH video, Vasily Kandinsky, Improvisation 28 (second version)

• selection from Kandinsky, The Effect of Color (primary source)

• SH essay, Who created the first abstract artwork?

• SH essay, Franz Marc and the animalization of art

key terms and concepts: Expressionism, Der Blaue Reiter, primitivism, the apocalypse, the Epoch of the Great Spiritual, color vibrations, Geist, Theosophy, abstraction

Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) was another important German Expressionist movement; its main artists were Gabriel Münter, Franz Marc, and the expatriate Russian Wassily Kandinsky. We'll also cover the Swedish Expressionist Hilma af Klint here because of her similar belief in the spiritual quality of abstract art.

• How do Gabriele Münter's works show the two main themes of Der Blaue Reiter, primitivism and spirituality? Why did Munter and Kandinsky both use folk art as a model? Who is the 'Blue Rider' and why was he chosen as the emblem of the group?

• How do Franz Marc's paintings of animals in their natural environments demonstrate his primitivist rejection of modern urban life (and humanity as a whole), and his pantheistic belief in the spirituality of nature? How did he use color as emotional and spiritual expression?

• Why did Kandinsky choose the Biblical theme of the apocalypse for his paintings of the early 1910s? What apocalyptic subject matter can we see in the works below? What did he think the role of the artist was relative to the 'Epoch of the Great Spiritual' that he believed was shortly forthcoming?

• Why did Kandinsky hide this apocalyptic subject matter and deny its importance to the proper understanding of his works? How did he believe that the form alone of his works, and especially their 'color vibrations' would better convey the spiritual qualities that he sought?  See the primary source reading 'The Effect of Color' particularly on this question; here is another, similar quote not in that reading:

     "[A work of art] has the power to create a spiritual [geistige] atmosphere; and from this internal

     standpoint alone can one judge whether it is a good work of art or bad. If its form is 'poor', it is too

     weak to call forth spiritual vibration. ... It is only well painted if its spiritual value is completed and

      satisfying. 'Good drawing' is drawing that cannot be altered without destruction of this inner value,

     quite irrespective of its correctness as anatomy, botany, or any other science. ... Similarly, colors are

     not used because they are true to nature, but because they are necessary to the [spiritual vibrations

     of the] particular picture."  -- Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1910

How are Kandinsky’s ideas about color, as both a manifestation of spiritual vision and as a means of communicating with the spirit, seen in contemporary occult movements such as Theosophy?

• One final, complex issue:  Kandinsky claimed to have been the first artist to produce abstract art.  Is this claim valid or not?  What are the arguments pro and con?  Which of his works would you cite as the first to be truly abstract?  (Why do his works and his art theory make this question impossible to answer?)

Franz Marc, Deer in the Woods 2, Expressionism (Der Blaue Reiter), 1913-14

Kandinsky, Small Pleasures, Expressionism (Der Blaue Reiter), 1913

Hilma af Klint, Paintings for the Temple, no particular movement, 1915

Gabriele Münter, Still-Life with Saint George, Expressionism (Der Blaue Reiter) 1911