In the early 20th century, a group of artists caused a huge furore in the Munich art world. Calling themselves Der Blaue Reiter, the artists produced expressive, brightly coloured, lyrical paintings which were to prompt the development of Expressionism in Germany. The core members of the group were Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky and kindred spirit Franz Marc. Although the group was so important for the later development of modern art, this exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in spring 2010 will be the first major retrospective of its work ever held in the Netherlands. Many of the works were seen earlier as part of the successful Kandinsky exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) played an important pioneering role in the development of painting. His explosive compositions, inspired by experimental music and primitive folk art, roused strong emotions and incomprehension among art critics, public and fellow artists. When he met Franz Marc, Kandinsky immediately recognised a kindred spirit who shared his interest in and ideas about painting and music. Just two days after they first met, they were already attending an Arnold Schönberg concert together. It was the start of a close friendship and in 1911 they set up Der Blaue Reiter (‘The Blue Rider’), swiftly attracting the adhesion of artists like Gabriele Münter, Alexej von Jawlensky, August Macke, Marianne von Werefkin and Heinrich Campendonck.
The group was highly diverse, both in style and membership. Yet there are common features; the Expressionism of Der Blaue Reiter is poetic and shows influences of Russian fairytales and traditional folk narratives. The artists worked instinctively, generally using bright colours, and were fascinated by nature and animals. This interest is reflected, for example, in the imposing, lovingly depicted horses that often fill Franz Marc’s paintings, evoking warm emotions in the viewer.
Kandinsky went his own way within the group. He felt there was a clear intuitive relationship between sound and form. This belief became an important starting point in his work and would eventually lead to what is now generally regarded as the world’s first abstract painting. The series of Improvisations and Compositions, in which the viewer can almost hear the sounds of music, are fine examples of Kandinsky’s quest for the ultimate amalgam of painting and music.
With the outbreak of war in 1914, the group disintegrated. Kandinsky left his partner Gabriele Münter and returned to Russia. Macke and Marc were called up to fight at the front, where they perished in the trenches. The tension and uncertainty of the times can be clearly felt in the paintings made immediately before and during the First World War.
The exhibition also looks at the artists’ life stories and the relations between them. The rare historical documents on show include photographs taken of Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter during their visit to the Netherlands in 1904 and never previously exhibited.
This exhibition, full of masterpieces by Kandinsky and the artists of Der Blaue Reiter, is the result of close cooperation between the Gemeentemuseum and Munich’s Städtische Galerie im Lehnbachhaus. It will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue containing essays by Doede Hardeman, Annegret Hoberg, Helmut Friedel and Franz Kaiser. The exhibition is part of the Holland Art Cities event.