Thursday, August 1, 2013

“Every work of art is the child of its time.  Often it is the mother of our emotions.”-- Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1912

Munich (and Vienna) rarely leap to the forefront of consciousness in the minds of most Americans when the phrase “art capital of Europe” is spoken.  Why this is may simply be an unfortunate aftermath of two World Wars triggered by madmen in that part of the world, an attempt by the victors to marginalize the defeated by trivializing their artistic contributions…

Wassily Kandinsky: The Last Judgment, 1912
Yet the truth remains that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both cities attracted brilliant writers and artists from both sides of the Atlantic.  Thomas Wolfe, born in North Carolina, was among those who traveled to Munich.  He began writing Look Homeward, Angel, while in Europe.  While the most likely source of the novel’s title are lines from a poem by John Milton carved onto a tombstone near Wolfe’s childhood home, some say young Tommy Wolfe found himself on the losing end of a fist fight in Munich.  This more romantic version has it that his (married, rich, and much older) lover gently whispered “Look homeward, angel” as she tended his bruised face…

Franz Marc: The Tower of Blue Horses, 1913
It was a bruising of another sort that inspired a group of German and Russian artists living in Munich circa 1911 to form a short-lived circle of painters calling themselves “The Blue Riders”…

Critics thought Wassily Kandinsky’s The Last Judgement too outrageous to be included in a serious exhibit.  Emotionally bruised by the rejection, Kandinsky and his friend Marc Franz gathered a circle of like-minded painters around themselves and garnished their works with dashes of fauvism and cubism, adding a sprinkle of expressionistic emotion to vitalize the work…

August Macke: View into a Lane, 1914
This group’s name may have been inspired by the title of one of Kandinsky’s earlier pieces (dating to about 1903) but Kandinsky later wrote that both he and Franz Marc loved the color blue and both found equines and equestrian sport fascinating.  For Kandinsky, especially, blue had a profound spiritual meaning as it linked man to the divine.  The darker the blue, the closer to God…

August Macke: Rokoko, 1912

[Kandinsky trained as an economist and lawyer, incidentally, and did not move toward a career in the arts until he was thirty years of age.  The son of a tea merchant, he grew to spiritual maturity in the Russian Orthodox Church.]

No artistic manifestos were ever produced by this group of painters, although it did produce an “Almanac” in 1912.  (The outbreak of World War One prevented publication of a second edition of the almanac.) Each held differing views about what art should emphasize.  What bonded them was a deep and abiding faith that art must not ignore the spiritual and that art should be spontaneous and intuitive…

Alexej von Jawlensky: Head in Blue, 1912

Rarely does very much good come of the carnage of battle.  World War brought an end to the Blue Riders.  Franz Marc and August Macke, two of the Blue Riders, died in the trenches in military service.  Kandinsky and the other Russian members were driven from Munich because men who led their homelands preferred to settle differences with bullets…  

The Blue Rider Almanac, 1912



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Note: Information for this essay is taken primarily from readily available sources such as Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, and almanacs.  When other sources are employed they are credited either in the text or as follows:  None. All photographs are taken from Wikipedia or Google Images without source or authorship credits available, except as noted: None.

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