Blaue Reiter, Der (The Blue Rider)

A German Expressionist group founded in Munich in 1911 by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. Its membership, who shared an interest in expressing a spiritual dimension in painting, featured in an almanac of the same name published in 1912. The group dispersed with the onset of the First World War.

Franz Marc Geburt der Pferde [Birth of Horses] 1913

Who Were Der Blaue Reiter?

Der Blaue Reiter were a group of international artists based in Munich who experimented with Abstraction and Expressionism. Initially founded by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, other members included Paul Klee, August Macke, Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky. Along with the Die Brucke movement in Dresden, they laid the foundation for Expressionism in Germany. In contrast with Die Brucke artists, who painted unsettling depictions of the real world, Der Blaue Reiter members aimed to transcend reality through symbolic use of colour and abstracted forms. The name is taken from a Kandinsky painting made in 1903 in an early, Symbolist style, depicting a man cloaked in blue riding through a green meadow to represent the journey from the real world into an imaginary one.

First Exhibition in 1911

In 1909 Kandinsky founded the group the Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen (New Artists Association of Munich), or NKvM, bringing together artists who shared an expressionistic style and heightened use of colour derived from Fauvism and Symbolism. Kandinsky, Marc and Jawlensky left the NKvM to form Der Blaue Reiter, holding their first exhibition in 1911. Though styles varied within the group, together they shared an affinity with expressive content and primitive folk or children’s art which they felt held a greater authenticity than the Western pursuit of naturalism and beauty. In 1912 the Blue Rider group published the Der Blaue Reiter Almanach, edited by Kandinsky and Marc, containing theoretical essays and over 140 art reproductions. In the almanac, Franz Marc referred to the group as ‘The savages of Germany’, with a desire to produce, ‘symbols that belong on the altars of a future spiritual religion.’

Publication of Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art

In 1910 Kandinsky published the book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, now considered one of the most important documents in the history of modern art. Of particular interest to Kandinsky were the Symbolic properties of colour and painting’s parallels with music, which could lead the way to pure abstraction. Kandinsky wrote, ‘Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano … the artist is the hand that plays,’ and, ‘that is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul.’ Kandinsky made the Kleine Welten (Small Worlds) portfolio in 1922, exploring a vibrant interplay of lines, textures and forms that appear to float in space like the sounds of music.

Legacy and Influence of Der Blaue Reiter

The group dispersed with the onset of the First World War, but were highly influential on a number of subsequent movements, including Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematism and the geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian. Through the influence of Bauhaus educator Josef Albers they led the way for the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky and Mark Rothko.

Artists

Alexej von Jawlensky
1864 - 1941
Paul Klee
1879 - 1940
Josef Albers
1888 - 1976
Wassily Kandinsky
1866 - 1944

Glossary terms

  • German Expressionist group that was based in Dresden, then Berlin, from 1903 to 1913. The name indicates a forward-looking approach, their art viewed as a bridge to the future. They are noted for their revival of the woodcut.

  • A style that made an impact in the arts in the 1920s, particularly in Germany. Expressionists abandoned realistic, accurate representations in favour of exaggerations and distortions of line and colour that were intended to carry far greater emotional impact.

  • The representation of subjects or ideas by use of a device or motif to create underlying meaning. A literary and artistic movement that originated in France and spread through much of Europe in the late 19th century. There was no consistent style but rather an appeal to the idea of the artist as mystic or visionary and the desire to express a world beyond superficial appearances.

  • A group of painters in France in the early 20th century, including Henri Matisse and André Derain, who used bold, vivid colours in their work. The name is derived from a derogatory remark from a critic who saw them as akin to wild beasts.