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Der Blaue Reiter. Wassily Kandinsky Franz Marc. Der Blaue Reiter. In1909 a group of Munich-based artists announced their common aim of “organising art exhibitions in Germany and abroad, and of reinforcing their effect by lectures, publications and similar means.”

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der blaue reiter

Der Blaue Reiter

Wassily Kandinsky

Franz Marc


Der Blaue Reiter

  • In1909 a group of Munich-based artists announced their common aim of “organising art exhibitions in Germany and abroad, and of reinforcing their effect by lectures, publications and similar means.”
    • They were known as Die Neue Kunstlervereinigung München (New Artists’ Alliance, Munich) or NKVM. Founding members included Alexij von Jawlensky, Alexander Kanoldt, Adolf Erbsloh, Marianne Werefkin, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Munter.
  • The NKVM hosted three major shows. The first featured the founding members, the second included French and Russian artists (including Picasso, Braque, Derain, Vlaminck, and two future Blaue Reiter artists Macke and Marc).
  • There came a rift in the NKVM when in their third show they rejected an art work by Kandinsky because of the jury deemed it too large for the show. Many members argued that it should be admitted, but in the end it was not.
  • Kandinsky left the NKVM and in 1911 they held their first exhibition (members included Kandinsky, Marc, and Munter). Interestingly, Die Brucke artists had left the New Artists Session in Berlin around the same time.

Der Blaue Reiter - What’s with the name?

  • Some argue that the name was taken from a Kandinsky work done in 1905 titled Blue Horseman. The horse rider had been inspired by Russian folk tales.
  • On the first Blaue Reiter Almanac is an image of St. George atop a horse slaying a dragon in the forground. It is thought that St. George was used as a symbol of the artists spiritual role of rescuing innocence from the ravages of materialism.
  • The horse rider was an allusion to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Der Blaue Reiter artists, especially under the influence of Theosophy, saw an apocalypse as the only way that a new, non-materialistic epoch will be reached. This was in reaction to the decadent bourgeois culture that was corrupted because of industrial change and exploitation.
  • Lastly, the horse was seen to be a potent symbol of elemental forces by both Kandinsky and Marc.

Der Blaue Reiter and philosophical influences.

Theosophy - Drawing from philosophical and religious backgrounds (Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism), it was established by the Russian Madame Blavatsky in 1875. They believed in the idea of universal brotherhood; the idea that colour and form can enrich the soul; that people have colour auras (‘thought forms’) that change colour according to people’s mood; that an apocalypse will bring about a final spiritual world; and that the 21st century will be a time of paradise on earth.

Psychology - Synaesthesia: a belief that some people have the ability to see colours when they hear a particular sound/music. Kandinsky wrote, “Various attempts to exploit this power of colour and apply it to different nervous disorders…red light has an enlivening and stimulating affect.” Freud: his theories on automatic drawing, or to create from the unconscious rather than conscious part of the mind as a way of tapping into a universal understanding.


Der Blaue Reiter and philosophical influences.

Darwinism - Der Blaue Reiter artists like Kandinsky and Marc used animals as symbols in their works at they saw them as existing in balance with nature…this aligned well with their interest in spirituality. Kandinsky used the horse as a symbol of power and passion whereas Marc used animals to represent truth, purity, and beauty.

The Apocalypse - For Kandinsky, this was going to bring about a necessary change and bring forth a new, non-material world. Many had seen science as something that was advancing too quickly and bringing too many changes and creating a corrupt and unbalanced world. Kandinsky wrote, “The collapse of the atom was equated…with the collapse of the whole world.” Many artists and liberal thinkers believed that the world was soon to collapse on itself. Such people included Kandinsky, Neitzsche, and Wagner. Der Blaue Reiter saw their task as prophesising this apocalypse.

In 1896 (30) he gave up his successful careeer as a lawyer (Phd) and economist to become a painter. He moved to Munich to study art.

One of few expressionists in Germany whose work was based on a comprehensive and well founded theory. In 1912 he wrote one of Art’s most influential texts ‘On the Spiritual in Art’.

His style changed and grew from Art Nouveau (Jugendstil), Russian symbolist, Fauvism, Post-Impressionism and eventually abstraction.

By 1909 his works, while still containing ciphers (abbreviated symbols of natural objects), his use of colour becomes much more expressive and non-representational.

Works take on unconventional titles and start with Impression, Improvisation, or Composition.

1911 an important year, it is thought that this was the year that he painted his first true abstract oil painting.

1913 space or movement is created by weight, the advancing or receding, of colour.

1914 is forced to leave Germany, though he returns in 1922 to teach at the Bauhaus.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944)

Kandinsky’s early work (1896-1908)

A Divisionist technique, using unmixed colours in juxtaposition (similar to Pointalism, some scholars will refer to this application of paint as Tesserae).

Not strictly systematic.

His themes are mingled with his rural Russian background and its fairy tales. The style alludes to Russian folk art with the use of bright colours against a dark background.

Art Nouveau influence can be seen.

Landscapes based more on psychological symbolism than on-site studies of nature.

Short vivid brushstrokes give a vibrant, luminous quality.


Claude Monet Haystacks

Kandinsky was deeply impressed with Monet’s haystacks. In was around 1905 that he went to a French Impressionist exhibition in Moscow. Kandinsky wrote:

“The catalogue told me that it was a haystack: I couldn’t tell it from looking. Not being able to to tell it upset me. I also considered that the artist had no right to paint so indistinctly…I had the dull sensation that the subject was missing. And was amazed and confused to realize that the picture did not merely fascin ate but impressed itself indelibly on my memory.”


Wassily Kandinsky - Munich-Schwabing with the Church of St. Ursula.

1908. Oil on cardboard. 68.8 x 49 cm.

Kandinsky work -1908-1909.

Silhouetted flatness of form.

Influence of Fauves as during this period Kandinsky had travelled to Paris and met Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck as well as Picasso and Braque. He was impressed by the Fauves arbitrary use of colour and the Expression that they captured in their work.

Often sharp contrast of light and dark and warm and cold.

Alternations between different coloured dabs and blobs of paint give the paintings a restless quality.

Kandinsky’s Metamorphosis - 1909-1911

In Germany, Kandinsky developed his idea of the correspondence between a work of Art and the viewer, and called it “Klang” (sound or resonance).

In his book Spirituality in Art he wrote:

“Colour is the power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with the strings. The Artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations of the soul.”

Metamorphosis: 1909-1911.

In this period of artistic development, he began to divide his paintings into 3 categories:

Impressions: which still show some representational elements.

Improvisations: which convey spontaneous emotion reactions.

Compositions: which are ultimate works of art, created only after a long period of preparations and preliminaries.


Mountain, 1909

Blue Mountain, 1908–09

Looking at these two works what stylistic features have changed? List three similarities and three differences.


Church of St. Ursula, 1908

Picture with an Archer. 1909

Looking at these two works what stylistic features have changed? List three similarities and three differences.


Improvisation 71910,

Oil on canvas,

131 x 97 cm.

Kandinsky’s work -1909-1910.

Landscape is still the basis of the subject matter though elements are only hinted at –as if they are a mere pretext for a colourful play of glowing contrasts.

Shapes are reduced.

Loose thick areas of colour are spread broadly and generously.







Cubism had demonstrated a means to be liberated from traditional representation of form.

Had seen that colour didn’t have to signify objects.

….has its own spiritual significance.


(K.) Had a neurological disorder known as synaesthesia.

Defined as sensory stimulation that is perceived by a separate sense.

Kandinsky exhibited the most common form known as ‘coloured hearing’. This means that he could hear music when he saw colours; each colour has its musical equivalent.

Each indiv. Would hear different musical tones on seeing different colours.

Example: When he saw the colour yellow in which he reported hearing the sound of a shrill trumpet.

He wrote of this in his theoretical texts. He stated that when you see a bright colour you do not associate deep bass sound with it, and likewise upon seeing a dark colour a high treble sound.


Kandinsky, "First Abstract Watercolour"1910. Pencil, watercolour and India ink, 49.6 x 64.8 cm.

Breakthrough to the abstract: 1910/11-1913

“The lopsided painting”, scholars are in debate as to whether this is the first true abstract art work.

Brings in connections between art and music where he saw music’s free chords and harmonic tones as an analogy for abstract art.

Early abstract forms still bound in some way to nature ie. weren’t just shapes and colour for their own sake.

The black outlines still suggest the figurative, but there is absolutely no connection between them and the vibrant field of colour which they frame.

Kandinsky, Improvisation 19, 1911. Oil on canvas, 120x141cm.


Cossacks  1910-11

  • Is this work devoid of anything representational?
  • The title of the work suggests that he is remembering the events of the 1905 Russian Revolution in which the Cossacks were involved.
  • The view is expected to read the painting in three levels:
    • To see the chaos of colour and lines to represent the chaos of the Revolution
    • To begin to see the forms created by colours and lines (eg. the hats of the Cossack soldiers, their lances, the castle sitting atop the hill)
    • To begin to understand the meaning of the work as it was his hope that the viewers would be drawn into a conversation with the painting while they try to decipher is.
On the left, violent motion is expressed through the profusion of sharp, jagged and entangled lines.

On the right, all is calm, with sweeping forms and colour harmonies.

Cossacks (1910-11) is considered to be the preparatory study work for this art work.

The dividing lines are actually two lances held by red-hatted Cossacks. Next to them, a third, white-bearded Cossack leans on his violet sword.

They stand before a blue mountain crowned by a castle. In the lower left, two boats are depicted.

Above them, two mounted Cossacks are joined in battle, brandishing violet sabers. On the lower right, two lovers recline, while above them two robed figures observe from the hillside.

Kandinsky has reduced representation to pictographic signs in order to obtain the flexibility to express a higher, more cosmic vision.

Composition IV, 1911, Oil on canvas, 159 x 250 cm


Later in 1911, Kandinsky produced Composition V, a much more abstract work.

Several angels blowing trumpets are included in the upper portion of the canvas.

The strong black line crossing from right to left can be felt as a representation of the blowing of the trumpets.

Above this line, the towers of a walled-in city are visible. Below the line, the thin application of paint produces a luminescence that affects our perception of space in that portion of the canvas.

The whiteness conveys a sense of infinity through the lack of volume and perspective. Out of this void, the viewer can sense the rising of the dead.

Kandinsky felt that each colour had an inherent character defined by its relationship to its opposing colour. For instance -plus/minus, warm/cool, active/passive, female/male and believed that these characteristics, on an intuitive level and in certain combinations, could communicate an emotion or idea to the spectator.

Kandinsky’s colour principles:

Yellow: Warm, Convulsive, irritating.

Blue: Tranquil, Severe, Cold.

Red: Hot, Passionate, Virile.

Green: Static, Neutral, Passive.

White: A silence pregnant with sound.

Black: Silence of death.

Kandinsky’s Colour Theory.


Kandinsky’s Colour Theory.









Made up of 3 areas of shapes pressing against each other.

Bottom right corner shape leads to Vermillion at centre, opposite a blue shape that has dark lines with light greens, whites and orange.

Black Arch shape gives weight to the image. Binds them together.

Black Arch appears as an eruption of energy, violent struggle. Red=1side. Blue the other.

Theme of conflict and struggle.

Kandinsky, Picture with a Black Arch, 1912. Oil on canvas, 188x196 cm.


An aim to capture the turmoil of inner life as captured in the conflict of the Music of Mozart or Wagner.

-evident in the contrast of the red and Blue in Black Arch.

Colour, line and free flowing form to make up a dramatic visual language which expresses the antagonism between matter and spirit.

Translates the entire sceptical mood of pre WW1 Europe into an abstract but accessible range of symbols.

Washed out blue figure in middle = fighting figure.

White line = lance directed at a dragon in lower left.

Kandinsky, Picture with white border, 1913.

Kandinsky saw three centres to this Composition:

First) The eye is drawn to the pink and white vortex in the left centre.

Second) The multiple lines representing torrential rain carry the focus to the right section, where a darker centre of discordant forms and stronger rain lines adds to the tumult.

Third) The eye slides to the lower centre, where a blue form outlined in black cowers below the torrents of rain and crashing waves. In this work, Kandinsky has pushed further beyond representation to the very limits of abstraction.


Composition VII is the pinnacle of Kandinsky\'s pre-World War One artistic achievement.

Its creation involved over thirty preparatory drawings, watercolours and oil studies.

Through all of the preparatory works and in the final painting itself, the central motif (an oval form intersected by an irregular rectangle) is maintained.

This oval seems almost the eye of a compositional hurricane, surrounded by swirling masses of colour and form.

In Composition VII\'s final form, Kandinsky has obliterated almost all pictorial representation.

Art scholars, through Kandinsky\'s writings and study of the less abstract preparatory works, have determined that Composition VII combines the themes of The Resurrection, The Last Judgment, The Deluge and The Garden of Love in an operatic outburst of pure painting.

Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913, Oil on Canvas, 200x300cm.

Apocalyptic emotion of Composition VII replaced with geometrical rhythm.

Painted ten years later in 1923, Composition VIII reflects the influence of Suprematism and Constructivism absorbed by Kandinsky while in Russia prior to his return to Germany to teach at the Bauhaus.

Kandinsky has moved from colour to form as the dominating compositional element

He does however use different colours within the forms to energize their geometry.

Design seems to be taking place in an undefined space. The layered background colours - light blue at bottom, light yellow at top and white in the middle - define its depth. The forms tend to recede and advance within this depth, creating a dynamic, push-pull effect.

Kandinsky, Composition VIII, 1923



More abstract than either Cubism or Futurism.


Complete abstraction. A very pure Geometric abstraction.

Fine tuned response to modern feelings.


Russian Folk Tradition

-Very strong colourist tradition.

-Mystical outlook.

-Orthodox Church.

-Their art had always had an abstract aspect.


Readiness to embrace the future. -Highly developed culture.



"Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." ~Wassily Kandinsky"There is no must in art because art is free." ~ Wassily Kandinsky

“Why should we not succeed in creating colour harmonies that correspond to our psychic state.” ~ Wassily Kandinsky

He studied at the Munich Art Academy and travelled to Paris several times where he saw the work of Gauguin, Van Gogh, and the Impressionists.

He became a member of the New Artists’ Alliance and was introduced to the concept of expressive, non-representational colour. He wrote:

“Their logiscla distribution of the plain, the mysterious lines of the one and the colour harmony of the other seek to create spiritual moods which have little to do with the subject protrayed but which prepare the ground for a new, highly spiritualise aesthetic.”

With Kandinsky, he founded the almanac "Der Blaue Reiter" in 1911 and organized exhibitions with this name. He was the groups ‘organiser’.

He and Auguste Macke began to work on a colour theory together after the est. of the Blaue Reiter group.

After a visit to meet Orphist Robert Delaunay (Fr.) he began to create works with a more crystalline form.

Franz Marc (1880-1916).

Robert Delaunay, Windows Open Simultaneously (1st Part, 3rd Motif), 1912.

Delaunay’s cubism revolved around an intensive study of the relationships of complementary colours and simultaneous colours. –where colour becomes an object of the picture.


Marc’s colour theories

He wrote:

“Blue is the male prinicple, stern and spiritual. Yellow the female principle, gentle, cheerful and sensual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the colour which must be fought and vanquished by the other two. If, for example, you mix the serious, spiritual blue with red, then you augment the blue to an unbearable mourning, and the reconciling yellow, the complementary colour to violet, will be indispensible (the woman as consoler, not as lover). If you mix read and yellow, you give the passive and female yellow a sensual power, for which the cool, spiritual blue -the man- will again be indispensable, and certainly blue sets itself immediately and automatically next to orange; the colours love each other. Blue and orange, a thoroughly festive chord. But if you now mix blue and yellow to green, you bring red, the material, the earth to life. But here I, as a painter, always feel a difference: with green you never put the eternally material, brutal red to rest, as you do with the other colour chord (just imagine objects decorated in green and red). Blue (the heaven) and yellow (the sun) must always come to the aid of green again, to subdue the material.”

1910 he meets Macke.

Snow pure white, hollows between it pure blue. Dog, dull yellow.

“Step by step, I now made the dog ‘pure coloured’ (light yellow); each time the colour became purer, the coloured edges around the dog disappeared a little more, until finally a pure colour relationship was created between the yellow, the cold white of the snow and the blue within it… Furthermore, the blue must not take up too much space in relationship to the pure but weak yellow if it is to remain complementary (ie. justified).”

Franz Marc, Dog lying in the snow, 1910/11. Oil on canvas, 62 x 105cm.

Red horse stands out against a predominantly yellow background.

His back faces us, seemingly snubbing humanity as he surveys and embraces the landscape.

The hills in the background repeat the forms of the horse –as if the same cosmic unity runs through both.

Colours have changed from actual colours to “essence”. Contrast red/green.

Franz Marc, Horse in a landscape, 1910. Oil on canvas, 85 x 112cm.

Painting of stark contrasts:

Brightness of the cow juxtaposed with the black of the trees and mountains, and red fury that pervades the landscape almost seems to threaten the femininity of the cow.

‘Joie de vivre’

Taking stock – Franz Marc (so far)

Marc never turned to animal paintings as a genre. Rather, his horses and other animals are substitutes for people in his art. Human qualities.

For him, they embody everything that is “pure”, “true” and “beautiful”. Features which he was unable to find in his fellow human beings.

Proves his colour associations are not dogmatic, as yellow can neither be seen here as female, nor as gentle, cheerful or sensual.

Soft, hilly landscape has been replaced by sharp edged, bizzare angular shapes. Cubist influence.

Has Marc here truly expressed the feeling of the tiger, or has he instead imposed on it human sensibilities?

In 1912 with Macke, visits the studio of Robert Delaunay. Sees his Windows series and is impressed by them.

Franz Marc, Tiger, 1912. Oil on canvas, 111 x 111.5 cm

Marc, Deer in the Monastery Garden, 1912, Oil on canvas, 75 x 101 cm.

Dominated by abstract, in part bizarre forms creating almost no impression of spatial depth.

Pantheism ie. pantheistic.

The spirit of the universe in everything.

1912/13 Marc’s views on animals changes

Marc no longer employing the animal as means of portraying himself.

“Another instinct led me away from animals towards abstraction… I found people ‘ugly’ very early on; animals seemed to me more beautiful, more pure; but even in animals I discovered much that was unfeeling and ugly, so that my pictures instinctively… became increasingly more schematic, abstract.”

1912/13: Sees in the flesh the work of the Futurists for the first time. Is enthralled by the capturing of light, illumination and atmosphere in their work.

Stables is Marc’s reaction to the work that the Orphists were producing as well as that of the the Futurists.

The horses are dismembered and abstracted as flat shapes parallel to the picture plane.

It is argued that Marc sees the stables as a metaphor for social decadence and mentions it in a letter to Kandinsky shortly after war is declared.

“I am not angry at this war; I am grateful to it from the bottom of my heart. There was no other avenue to the time of the spirit; it was the only way of cleansing the … stables of Europe.”



Franz Marc, Animal Destinies (The Trees show their Rings, the Animals their Veins), 1913. Oil on Canvas, 196 x 266 cm.

It shows the political and artistic contexts just before WWI via the Futurist lines of force, Cubist fragmenting of structure, and Orphic colour harmonies.

The painting is thought to represent the coming of conflict and its effect on the natural world that Marc had previously considered innocent.

Three red shards move from the upper left diagonally into the tree which falls in an opposing diagonal…this is counter-balanced by the diagonal explosion of form from top right to lower left.

At the time of the art work Marc wrote:

“Today art is moving in a direction of which our fathers would never even have dreamed. We stand before the new pictures as in a dream and we hear the apocalyptic horsemen in the air. There is an artistic tension all over Europe.”

Animal Destinies (The Trees show their Rings, the Animals their Veins)

These two works are a part of a series of four works including Happy Forms (destroyed), and Playing forms.

The works reveal conflicting nature of artist’s inner emotions which can be seen as a “battle of spiritual forces against the material world.”

In Fighing Forms the figure on the left can perhaps be seen as an eagle (a bird of soaring spirit), which is attacking a blue/black otherwise undefinable being.

In the book of Revelation 8:13 it says, “Then I looked and I heard an eagle calling with a loud cry as it flew in mid-heaven; ‘Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of earth when the trumpets sound…”

Fighting Forms and Broken Forms



  • Completed after Marc had visited the Austrian town.
  • The work began primarily as an abstract landscape, which can be identified by the hint of a town in the lower centre of the painting. Marc had submitted it to the Autumn Salon in 1913 but withdrew it to add the Madonna figure in the upper centre of the painting, along with a scythe that cuts across from the lower right portion of the work.
  • The scythe and Madonna on a crescent moon refer Christian portrayals of the apocalypse as told in the Revelation of St John. The scene is meant to symbolise the rebirth of mankind after the destruction of corrupt society. Examples of this can be seen in work done by Durer around 1500.