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Gabriele Münter (1877-1962) was identified with the Blue Rider group in Munich (conceived in the fall of 1911), yet her art seems closer to the Fauves and Gauguin’s Pont Aven style than to German Expressionism. Born in Berlin, Gabriele studied at a school for women in Düsseldorf – not at the academy, where women were not admitted. Between 1898 and 1901 she was in America, then she studied art in Munich later that year. In 1902 Münter was in Kandinsky’s recently organized Phalanx School. She wrote, “Kandinsky, quite unlike the other teachers, explained all problems thoroughly and intensely and accepted me as a human being. . . .” The two became engaged, traveled together to Paris and Sèvres, underwent the influence of the Fauves, and exhibited in both the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne. Then they traveled to the Riviera, North Africa, Italy and Austria. They settled in Murnau, on Lake Staffel in the Bavarian Alps near Alexej Jawlensky, who had been influenced by both Gauguin and Matisse. Jawlensky would have acquainted Münter with Gauguin’s concept of synthetism. There she also met Jawlensky’s companion, Marianne Werefkin (1860-1938) and did her portrait, now in the Lenbachhaus, Munich. The face in this Matisse-like image is largely in green hues with magenta-purple shadows. Murnau was the center of peasant glass painting, and this strain of primitivism influenced modern German art. Blaue Reiter painters were inspired to attempt paintings in this medium, “and even the symbol – the figure of the blue rider – owes its final character to these intensive studies of folk art.”(Quote from Klaus Lankheit, “A History of the Almanac,” in The Blaue Reiter Almanac. Ed. Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. New York: Da Capo Press, 1974, p. 40). Münter’s Boating from 1910 (Milwaukee Art Center) reflects this primitive art movement. Portrait of a Young Woman of 1909 (Milwaukee Art Center), on the other hand, is pure Nabis-inspired cloisonnisme.
Kandinsky, Münter and Jawlensky founded the New Artists’ Association of Munich (Neue Künstlervereinigung München) in 1909 but all withdrew with Franz Marc in 1911 to form the Blaue Reiter. August Macke and Henri Rousseau were the other participants of the group’s first exhibition. From 1911 comes Münter’s Village Street in Winter, characterized by broad planes of color and bold black contours, The Green House (Milwaukee Art Center; in Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, Women Artists: 1550-1950. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976, cat. no. 120) and Still-life with St. George (both paintings in the Lenbachhaus, Munich). The artist wrote how she jumped from impressionism to “feeling [nature’s] inner content, towards abstracting and expressing the essence. It was a wonderful, interesting, joyful working period with much discussion about art. . . .” (Quoted in Shulamith Behr, Women Expressionists. New York: Rizzoli, 1988, p. 42) In the second Blaue Reiter show in 1912 Münter exhibited fourteen works, including the portrait of Paul Klee. Münter and Kandinsky went to Switzerland, then to Stockholm and Denmark during the years of World War I. The couple separated in 1917; Kandinsky went on to Moscow and married Nina Andrewsky there. Klaus Lankheit (1974, p. 20) called Münter hypersensitive. Münter was far more spontaneous and eclectic than her teacher.
Gabriele Münter’s palette reached a Fauve or post-Fauve intensity and her landscapes recall those of both Cézanne and Van Gogh. In her figures she used greatly simplified forms into expressive color areas, often marked by black contours. One of her early patrons was Bernhard Koehler, a manufacturer in Berlin and the uncle of August Macke’s wife, Elisabeth. His son, the younger Bernhard, was the same age as Macke. The Mackes went to Paris with the elder Koehler in 1908 where he purchased works by Courbet, Monet, Manet, Pissarro and Seurat. In addition, he bought works by Franz Marc.
Münter had a retrospective exhibition in 1913 at the Kunstsalon Dietzel in Munich. The Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst in Munich has Münter’s portrait of Paul Klee, titled Man in an Armchair, from the previous year. Her most famous painting is Reflection, dated 1917, also in the Lenbachhaus. A little later Münter painted the colorful Staffelsee in Autumn (1923; The Holladay Collection). She returned to Murnau in 1927 in “semi-retirement,” unable to flaunt her style during the Third Reich, when her art was considered to be “degenerate.” (See Hugo Munsterberg, A History of Women Artists. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975, p. 70). She secretly held onto a collection of early paintings by Kandinsky, 120 of which she donated to the Städtische Galerie in Munich. The charming Breakfast of the Birds was done during this time (1934; Holladay Collection; see National Museum of Women in the Arts. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987, p. 131). Gabriele Münter remains a significant contributor to the Blue Rider movement and a major post-Fauve German painter.
All cited in the above text but see also:
Eichner, Johannes. Kandinsky und Gabriele Münter vom Ursprüngen moderner Kunst. Munich: 1957; Röthel, Hans Konrad. Gabriele Münter. Munich: 1957; Lahnstein, P. Münter. Ettal: 1971. Erlanger, J. “Gabriele Münter; A Lesser Life?” Feminist Art Journal (Winter 1974-75): 11-13, 23; Kleine, Gisela. Gabriele Münter und Wassily Kandinsky: Biographie eines Paares. Frankfurt-am-Main: Insel Verlag, 1994.
Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.