“In the eyes of many, I was only an unnecessary side-dish to Kandinsky. It is all too easily forgotten that a woman can be a creative artist with a real, original talent of her own.” ~ Gabriele Münter.
Gabriele Münter & Wassily Kandinsky
German Expressionist artist Gabriele Münter, became Wassily Kandinsky’s partner and both were on the cutting edge of the avant-garde. She was the only female proponent to co-found, ‘Der Blaue Reiter’, or ‘The Blue Rider’ group, along side Kandinsky and artists Franz Marc and Alfred Kubin.
Early on Gabriele Münter was pegged down as Kandinsky’s student and lover rather than his contemporary. Gabriele Münter was adept at many art techniques and her talent shone in all mediums and styles in which she chose to work. On discovering new ways to paint she was inspired and motivated to produce numerous artworks, linocuts and drawings, exhibiting her work with Kandinsky and the Blaue Reiter group. There were times in the early experimental years, when their paintings could barely be told apart and often it was Münter who inspired Kandinsky.
When eventually their relationship fell apart, Kandinsky became successful and renowned worldwide, but Gabriele Münter who was crushed by deception and lost love, failed to paint again for nearly ten years.
Gabriele Münter early years
Gabriele Münter was born on 19th February 1877 in Berlin, to upper-middle-class Protestant parents, she was the youngest of four children, having one older sister and two brothers.
Gabriele’s mother, Wilhelmine Scheuber, daughter of a German cabinetmaker had met her father, Carl Friedrich Münter in the United States of America, where both their families’ had emigrated. Having worked as a proprietor of a general store for several years, Carl Münter studied dentistry and gained his degree in Cincinnati, Ohio. After qualifying as a dentist he moved to Jackson Tennessee and met Wilhelmine, there they were married in 1857 and lived there until 1864.
According to family legend, it was only the American Civil War ( 1861-1865 ) that prevented Gabriele Münter and her siblings from being born U.S. citizens. Due to the turmoil of the conflict, the couple returned to Germany in 1864 and Carl Münter established himself as an, ‘American Dentist’ in Berlin. A daughter and two sons were born in the mid to late 1860s, then a pause before the birth of their youngest daughter, Gabriele, in 1877. A year later the family moved to Herford in North Rhine Westphalia, at that time a beautiful region with huge forests and open countryside.
Gabriele began to draw as a child and knew she wanted to be an artist. Her parents supported her in her creative dream, regardless of the limited options deemed respectable to women of that time. Gabriele showed an aptitude which her parents recognised, consequently they arranged private art classes for her from the Herford art organisation ‘Malkiste’ and they paid for a series of private lessons from local artists for their daughter.
In 1884 the family moved to the town of Koblenz, at the junction of the Rhine and Mosel rivers. Gabriele attended the Lyceum for Girls school in Koblenz, where she had her first formal training in drawing, the curriculum included a course teaching the young students to draw accurately by following a grid system. In 1886 when Gabriele was nine years old her father died, he was only fifty-nine.
A year after in 1887, one of her brothers, August died aged just twenty-two.
As teenagers Gabriele and her sister Emmy were allowed much more freedom than most German girls of the time. They were allowed to ride bicycles, read controversial books and magazines and smoke. Also the Münter girls were not pushed into early marriages, a custom which was still quite acceptable in the 1890s. Female emancipation and ‘the New Woman’, had not yet reached all sectors of middle-class Germany at the turn of the century.
It is believed that the reason for the relatively free and unrestricted life style of Gabriele’s youth, was in part due to the influence of the family’s American cousins, with whom they frequently visited.
At the age of twenty in March 1897, Gabriele moved to Düsseldorf to start painting classes with Ernst Bosch. Not happy with her progress she joined the Ladies’s Atelier of the Düsseldorf Academy, under the tutelage of Professor Willy Spatz. Here Gabriele complained that the teaching was not inspiring and that, ‘nobody seemed to take the ambitions of a ‘mere girl’ seriously. For a while she worked painting ornaments in a Düsseldorf studio and experimented by copying oil paintings in pastels.
Gabriele had no idea what she wanted to do with her art and was searching for her own distinctive style. In the autumn she decided to return to Koblenz to be with her mother and sister, but by November their mother who had been ill, died aged sixty-one. Gabriele and Emmy were devastated, they were now orphans. A trust fund had been set up for the remaining Münter children, so the girls had some stability, their inherited wealth would allow them a comfortable, independent life.
The United States
In 1898 Gabriele and her sister Emmy decided to travel to the United States and visit their brother Carl, who had married an American singer. They stayed in America for two years visiting relatives in Missouri, Arkansas and Texas, acquainting themselves with the mainly rural, ‘Pioneer’ lifestyle of their extended family. With their available funds the sisters were able to live and travel freely and independently, unconstrained by convention. They visited famous sights such as Niagara Falls and the St. Louis Exposition, gaining experiences and social exposure unusual for young women of the era.
During her spare moments Gabriele experimented with her drawing, she sketched family members, landscapes, plants and animals. Increasingly she would draw a single figure, sometimes as part of a domestic scene, or seated alone. She was inclined towards simplifying her figures, including only essential information, a step towards abstraction.
Gabriele continued to see herself as an amateur, without a style or focus, however her visit to America became a voyage of discovery and artistic experimentation, demonstrating a creative independence and a resistance to the prevailing academic artistic style. In 1898 for her twenty-first birthday she was given a Kodak camera, a gift that would be used often throughout her creative years.
Notice Gabriele’s shadow seen in the far left of left Photograph.
Gabriele and her sister returned to Germany in the autumn of 1900. For a short period Gabriele moved to Bonn to study with the sculptor Hermann Küppers, before moving to the bohemian district of Schwabing in Munich.
In Schwabing in the spring of 1901 Gabriele resumed her art studies by enrolling in the Damenakademie ( Ladies Academy ) of the Künstlerinnenverein ( Association of Women Artists ) where she started in the beginners class, taught by Maximilian Dasio.
She was able to study drawing from the partially clothed figure and portraiture. The Munich Academy of Fine Art where male students were able to study life drawing, did not enrol women at that time.
In the winter of 1901 a student friend told Gabriele about the newly founded, ‘Phalanx’ art school, run by Wassily Kandinsky and Wilhelm Hüsgen. The small private art faculty was taught by progressive figures in the art scene, who were active in the Schwabing area of Munich.
Phalanx, an avant-garde academy had only been running for six months when Gabriele enrolled in Hüsgen’s sculpture class and attended Kandinsky’s evening drawing and painting sessions, where all students worked from the nude figure.
Gabriele found the classes inspiring and stimulating, for the first time she had discovered in Kandinsky, a teacher who took her seriously as an artist.
Wassily Kandinsky and Phalanx
Wassily Kandinsky was a qualified lawyer and had arrived in Munich from his home city of Moscow a few years earlier. He was determined to devote himself entirely to painting.
After a disappointing period working in the studio of Anton Azbe, where at least he made the acquaintance of his compatriot, Alexej Jawlensky and of Marianne Werefkin, he went to study at the Munich academy under Franz von Stuck.
A year passed by and in 1901 Wassily Kandinsky, who was still utterly unknown and reliant on his own funds, decided to establish an alternative school of art, the Phalanx academy. Under Kandinsky, Phalanx would be the ‘spearhead of new art’, with liberal systems of teaching and progressive values.
Gabriele regarded his teaching highly: “The way in which Kandinsky – in quite a different way from other teachers – explained things painstakingly and thoroughly and regarded me as a consciously striving human being was a new artistic experience,- it was new to me and made an impression”, she wrote in her memoirs.
The creative opportunities now open to Gabriele at Phalanx included wood engraving with Ernst Neumann, sculpture with Wilhelm Hüsgen and most significantly, painting and life drawing with Wassily Kandinsky.
In the summer of 1902 Gabriele, aged 25 accepted an invitation from Kandinsky to join his summer, ‘en- plein- air’ landscape painting class at Kochel and Walchensee in the foothills of the Alps.
Here in this stunning landscape began a tender relationship between tutor and student. Kandinsky 36 who at the time was married to his Russian cousin, Anja Chimiakina (since 1892) must have realised his strong feelings for Gabriele, because out of curtesy to Anja, he asked his new protégé to interrupt her stay and her studies at Kochel when his wife joined them in August.
Gabriele acquiesced to his wishes somewhat reluctantly; unfortunately it would not be the last time that she put her artistic progress in second place to the affairs of her private life.
In Autumn 1902, back in Munich the relationship between Gabriele and Kandinsky became more serious, with Kandinsky playing the determined role; as was evident in his thirty-five letters he wrote to Gabriele before the year ended. The content of these letters revealed a man in the rapture of love, but also conveyed a level of emotional uncertainty.
It seemed that Gabriele repeatedly declined his advances and questioned the sincerity of his affection, as she refused to conduct an under cover, ‘verboten’ affair, that might escape his wife’s notice. Gabriele wished that he would make a clear commitment.
In the summer of 1903, after some hesitation, Gabriele decided to take part in a second painting expedition with Kandinsky’s Phalanx class, this time in Kallmünz in eastern Bavaria. Kandinsky had previously spoken to his wife Anja, who had agreed on amicable terms to give up her claim on him.
Gabriele experimented with new painting techniques using a palette knife, which Kandinsky had taught her. She made several small oil studies in a Post-Impressionist style, having up until now created almost exclusively drawings. That summer Kandinsky and Gabriele became intimate and they were secretly engaged, planning to get married once Kandinsky obtained his divorce.
After the period they had spent so closely together, the new lovers were apart again for several months while Gabriele spent time with her siblings in Bonn. In 1903 she found a studio flat for herself in Munich.
Gabrielle was keen to be with her fiancee and to pursue her painting, now she had her own studio, but Kandinsky wanted a trial period together as far away as possible from Munich and his marital ties to Anja, to whom he still felt obligated. So, for reasons that were private and nothing to do with artistic discovery, the couple embarked on an unsettled, itinerant life of travel, which would last four years.
The ‘Vagabond years’
In May 1904 they set off for Holland, briefly returning to Germany in September, where Kandinsky disbanded the marital household in Schwabing. From there they journeyed on to Tunisia where they spent several months and Gabriele painted a few landscapes and street scenes.
From north Africa they travelled to France via Italy, then Dresden where they explored the countryside on foot. After which they moved on to Belgium for a while, before returning to Italy, where they rented a house in Rapallo on the Amalfi coast, staying for Christmas and then remaining there for a further six months.
Gabriele was neither creatively productive nor happy during their voyages and referred to these travelling years with Kandinsky as, ‘vagabond years of togetherness’, not ideal as a basis for the tender and vulnerable early phase of a relationship.
Gabriele would have been subjected to heavy pressures, as an unmarried woman seen to be living in ‘sin’. She found it difficult enough to justify her relationship to her siblings, as it was so much at odds with conventional ideals of domestic bliss.
It would have been quite normal for Gabriele to cherish some of these ideals, or at least that Kandinsky should have acknowledged her officially, without reservation.
There were no great changes in either artist’s painting style over their travelling years. They both continued to paint landscapes with palette knives, in a style that retained spatial depth and perspective, characteristic of a more academic naturalism. Kandinsky and Münter undoubtedly influenced each other, he encouraged her to “Paint like a man,” however Gabriele who was eager to learn, wanted to see her art develop in its own way.
Gabriele Münter was adept at dressmaking and regularly made her own clothes, a skill more widespread in the early 1900s than now. Wassily Kandinsky designed a dress for her which she interpreted and cut, making a striking and original outfit. The dress designed by Kandinsky, with the little purse attached to the waistband inspired the dress I made for my muse of Gabriele.
In May 1906 Kandinsky and Gabriele moved to Paris and settled in the suburb of Sèvres for a year. By November, tensions in their relationship prompted Gabriele to live alone temporarily, she rented a room in Paris for the winter of that year and attended a course in drawing at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Here her clearly structured drawings were admired by the well-known poster artist and printmaker, Théophile Steinlen.
At the Académie, Gabriele focused on the coloured woodcut technique that she had briefly learnt during her summer in Kallmünz in 1903. Previously influenced by the Munich Jugendstil (Art Nouveau), in Paris she was inspired by the new French style of woodcut, which required simplification of form and flat representation.
Gabriele now 29, attained a swift and impressive mastery of this skill, a revival of an old process, which contributed to a more modern form of picture making. During her year in Paris, Gabriele was able to see work by Matisse, Gauguin and the Fauves, whom she greatly admired and would prove highly influential to her in the following years.
The time in Sèvres, Paris was difficult for Kandinsky, he was troubled with artistic doubts and depressive moods, mostly induced by pangs of conscience about Anja. Kandinsky felt a deep bond of friendship and respect for his first wife Anja Chimiakina, his cousin and companion of his university days. Gabriele said that Kandinsky suffered several periods of depression under the weight of remorse for his past “and under the sacrifice Anja had made for him”.
Before returning to Bavaria, Gabriele exhibited her paintings and prints at the ‘Paris Salon des Indépendants’. Then in February 1908 she exhibited eighty paintings at her first solo show at the ‘Kunstsalon Lenoble’, in Cologne. By Spring the couple had decided that they would settle in Munich and set about looking for an attractive place to paint in the nearby countryside.
On a trip south of Munich Gabriele Münter and Kandinsky discovered the old town of Murnau, on Staffelsee ( Lake Staffel ) on the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. They were enchanted by its picturesque position and arranged for their Russian painter friends Alexej Jawlensky and Marianne Werefkin to join them at the Griesbräu Inn. The artists spent six weeks of August and September painting together in the Murnau landscape.
The summer of 1908 was to be a turning point in their personal lives and their artistic development. In Murnau both Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter discovered a new method of painterly expression, something they had both been seeking. The intense Alpine light which brought out the colours and contours of the landscape, the simple geometry of the village with little atmospheric deflexion, contributed to a liberation and clarity in their vision.
Almost spontaneously and earlier thought unimaginable, they discarded their palette knives for the paint brush and created impulsively bold and vividly coloured views of the village, the lake and mountains.
For Gabriele this was an emancipating experience, she said: “After a short period of agony, I took a great leap forward from copying nature, in a more or less Impressionistic way, to feeling the content of things, abstracting, conveying an extract.” It was a wonderful, interesting period of working, discussing art and forging friendship with the ‘Giselists’, (Werefkin and Jawlensky).
Gabriele’s new found confidence in her painting style of radiant colour and bold outlines, was almost certainly inspired by the paintings she saw in Paris by Gauguin, the Nabis and the Fauves.
Gabriele Münter demonstrated fervent creative energy in Murnau, painting intensively and prolifically, often painting up to five oil studies a day in the open air. The intensity of her gaze and her talent to simplify what she saw, developed fully that summer and attracted the admiration of her artist friends.
Her work soon became an inspiring model for them all, including Kandinsky. Gabriele especially enjoyed the stimulating conversations she had while working with Alexej Jawlensky; it was from such beginnings that the Blue Rider group would later emerge and the epoch-making breakthrough to Modern painting.
1909 was an actively creative and eventful year for both Gabriele Münter and Kandinsky, they became founder members of the Munich-based avant-garde group ‘Neue Künstlervereinigung München’ (New Artists’ Association Munich) along with Alexej Jawlensky and Marianne Werefkin.
Gabriele continued to develop and heighten her individual and expressive painting technique, turning it into an intense, abstract way of seeing, which did not abandon real life, but condensed it and bestowed it with a reality of its own. Kandinsky’s work veered towards a more abstract path, still using bold colour, but gradually moving away from nature to conceptual ideas.
The Russian House
In the summer of 1909 Kandinsky fell in love with a newly built villa on the outskirts of Murnau and encouraged Gabriele to purchase it. Citing from Gabriele’s diary, “To this love he has remained faithful. There was a lot of debate – he put a certain amount of pressure on me” – by the late summer the villa had been bought by Miss G. Münter’. The quote unwittingly cemented a myth that Kandinsky had lived off Gabriele Münter’s money.
In truth they both had private incomes during the years they were together; Kandinsky received income from letting a house he owned in Moscow and Gabriele was paid regular instalments of her allowance, managed by her brother in Bonn. Indeed she paid for the villa as a home and a place to work for the two of them, but Kandinsky had his own means.
Together the couple devoted many hours improving their new home, which soon became known as ‘the Russians’ House’.
They cleared and planted the garden, painted the walls and furniture with motifs inspired by local, naive art and decorated the house with Bavarian folk art which they started to collect.
During this early phase of life together Gabriele discovered Bavarian Bohemian glass painting, a technique known as ‘Hinterglasmalerei’. She began to experiment in it and took lessons from Heinrich Rambold, a glass painter who was still active in Murnau at the time. Her enthusiasm for this fascinating art form soon took hold of Kandinsky and their other artist friends.
In September 1910, Gabriele Münter exhibited several large paintings in the second N.K.V.M Exhibition ( New Artists’ Association, Munich), which included works by Georges Braque, André Derain and Pablo Picasso among others.
Within the N.K.V.M there were tensions brewing, between the progressive and the moderate members of the association. The decisive break away came when the jury at the third exhibition rejected Kandinsky’s large abstract painting, on the alleged pretext that it was too big.
Der Blaue Reiter
In November 1911, Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Franz Marc, Alfred Kubin and several other artists left the N.K.V.M to form ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ (the Blue Rider) an important Expressionist and theoretical art group that believed in a more spiritual dimension to abstract art, opposing a mercantile and materialist society.
The artists of Der Blaue Reiter drew parallels between painting and music. Their abstraction resulted in non-naturalistic colour being applied to recognisable objects, sometimes form and colour became unrelated, shaping separate elements within the painting.
They used unusual names for their artworks, such as, ‘Compositions’, ‘Improvisations’ and ‘Études’.
The name “Der Blaue Reiter” referred to Kandinsky and Marc’s opinion that blue was the most spiritual colour, also associated with purity and infinity; the rider symbolised the ability to move beyond, a metaphor for a movement of renewal.
St George was significant for Der Blaue Reiter, not only was he the patron saint of Moscow, but of Murnau too, present in the churches, streets and the local art. St George was depicted several times by Kandinsky in watercolour, drawings and oil paintings, but notably on his design for the title page of ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ almanac, a compendium which featured contemporary, primitive and folk art.
The group rejected Impressionism and the then artistic establishment, embracing expressive content, spiritual colour theory and Bavarian folk art, admiring the work of Rousseau and Delaunay.
In December that same year ( 1911 ) Der Blaue Reiter held its first exhibition in Munich at the Galerie Thannhauser, where Gabriele Münter was prominently represented with six of her distinctive paintings. Her works hung alongside Kandinsky, Marc, August Macke, Robert Delaunay, Henri Rousseau and other noteworthy, avant-garde painters.
It was a creative and active period of time for the group, but there were increasing personal tensions between Gabriele and Kandinsky as well conflicts between her, Macke, Marc and their wives. Their everyday lives had become more hectic due to the success of the exhibition and new contacts, critics and galleries to deal with. Gabriele was touchy and sometimes insecure, her self-confidence fluctuated and her productivity wavered.
During 1911, after lengthy proceedings, Kandinsky finally obtained his divorce, the settlement of which had dragged on for a long time, no doubt partially due to Kandinsky’s lack of resolve in pursuing it. Correspondence between Gabriele and Kandinsky reflected a growing disaffection in their relationship, there were disagreements and quarrels.
Now that her lover was free, Gabriele naturally hoped for marriage, she had made repeated references to it in her letters to Kandinsky, but he refused to propose. The mutual tensions and disappointment became more acute, Gabriele’s pace of work slackened, while Kandinsky discovered abstraction and made headway with his large new compositions.
Despite the mood of their personal relationship, Kandinsky and Gabriele had a deep mutual understanding artistically and each had a high opinion of the other’s talent. Kandinsky acknowledged and nurtured Gabriele’s talent and regarded her and women artists such as Werefkin, Olga von Hartmann and Elizabeth Epstein as his artistic equals.
In 1912 Der Blaue Reiter organised a touring exhibition in Germany and Gabriele Münter received a boost to her morale. Herwarth Walden, Berlin art dealer and publisher saw her work and visited her studio. He arranged for a retrospective of her work the following spring at his new ‘Sturm Gallery’. Meanwhile Der Blaue Reiter exhibition went on to Cologne, Dresden and Munich.
In March 1913 the large exhibition of eighty-four paintings by Gabriele Münter opened at Walden’s Sturm Gallery, a major achievement and accolade for her. The retrospective then travelled, in a reduced form around Germany, while Gabriele visited relatives.
Despite the success of her show, Gabriel Münter’s was disheartened and anxious. Her series of paintings, ‘Nah dam Tee’ (After Tea) 1912, Gabriele repeatedly alters her own position in the room, sitting in dark clothes, isolated on the left. In several studies she appeared to be finding pictorial expression for her feelings of personal alienation.
Now 35 years old Gabriel Münter’s relationship with Kandinsky had become long distant, as he spent more months away travelling to art dealers in Berlin, visiting family in Odessa and conducting business in Moscow. They communicated by letter, in which Gabriele openly expressed her lethargy and inability to paint, her depression and wish for them to be together; yet Kandinsky, who seemed to regard any hint of marriage as a nuisance, filled his correspondence with family news and anecdotes of his social and business life.
The couple spent the summer of 1913 together in Murnau before Kandinsky left again for Moscow, where he was arranging the build of a new house. The correspondence resumed in July, but this time it was more business-like in tone and Gabriele was asked to run errands, arrange photographs and transcribe one of Kandinsky’s manuscripts for the Autumn Salon. She carried out his wishes without hesitation, hoping for reciprocal love. The following summer of 1914 would be their last together in Murnau.
First World War
In August 1914, Der Blaue Reiter group was disbanded by the outbreak of the First World War. Kandinsky, as a Russian, ceased to be welcome in Germany, so he and Gabriele gathered their belongings and fled to Switzerland.
Initially they stayed in Rorschach, Lake Constance, then to Zurich, where Kandinsky suggested they should no longer live together, but continue to meet as friends. It was here that they separated in November 1914 and Kandinsky returned to his native Moscow. Gabriele was insistent that they should still see each other, but Kandinsky repeated his proposition in several letters to her from Russia.
Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky were also forced to move back to Russia because of their Russian citizenship and Franz Marc and August Macke were killed in combat. As a result, Der Blaue Reiter was short-lived, lasting for only three years from 1911 to 1914.
Gabriele returned to Munich in January 1915, gave up the flat in Schwabing and closed up the house in Murnau. Before they had parted in Zurich, Gabriele had procured a promise from Kandinsky to meet up in Stockholm, on neutral ground. Feeling restless, Gabriele travelled to Stockholm via Berlin in May, meeting up with a number of artists and friends who had attended the Phalanx art school.
Kandinsky did not join her until December 1915 after a long period of ambivalence. The couple remained in Stockholm until March 1916, it would be the last time they spent together. The fact that Kandinsky did not show the courage to break the relationship at this final meeting, but conversely, promised his persistent partner that he would return, reveals a dishonourable weakness on his part.
In 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, Kandinsky married a young Russian girl, Nina Andrejewska, she was just seventeen years old.
He stopped writing to Gabriele, who then thought he had either been killed, or had gone missing in the turmoil of the Revolution.
It would be several years later in 1920, that Gabriele would learn of Kandinsky’s whereabouts and his marriage; Gabriele discovered the news via Herwarth Warden, in whose Berlin gallery she had her largest solo exhibition in 1918.
Gabriele spent three desolately lonely years in Sweden and Denmark, suffering intense periods of depression and financial difficulty.
Gabriele Münter returned to her house in Murnau in the Spring of 1920, where she lived a secluded, solitary life for five years. Her inspiration and confidence waned and she acknowledged that she was unsure of herself in her art, “having moved restlessly from place to place.” She felt that her paintings showed little change or development, however it is true that the few paintings she made over this time were characterised, by pain and lethargy, reflecting how she felt at the time.
In 1921 Gabriele heard further that Kandinsky and his young wife were returning to Germany, Kandinsky having been appointed by Walter Gropius, a professor at the Bauhaus in the city of Weimar.
This news would have caused considerable distress to Gabriele, who would remember her inspirational years as Kandinsky’s student with fondness.
Now living very separate lives, he would again teach eager young art students painting and modern colour theory, passionately lecturing on principles of form and art psychology.
Finally in 1925, Gabriele could bear the isolation no longer, she shut up her house and travelled to Cologne and then Berlin, which was then part of the Weimar Republic.
Gabriele began to involve herself in the art world again, making new aquaintances among the circle of avant-garde women artists and writers who lived and worked in the city, including Käthe Kollwitz.
Gabriele Münter’s work also appeared in a Berlin exhibition of the Association of Women Artists in 1926 and a Women’s Art Exhibition in Berlin in 1927.
Gabriele Münter was emerging as a symbol of modernism in German art, recognised not only for her artistic achievements but also for the work of German women artists in general.
During her Berlin years Gabriele Münter produced a number of pencil drawings of female sitters, drawn with fluent contours, faultlessly achieving form without the need of internal modelling. These drawings expressed the essence of the person portrayed, in purest configuration and have often been compared to the linear work of Henri Matisse.
Contact between Kandinsky and Gabriele during 1925-1926 occurred via an agent, who tried to retrieve some of Kandinsky’s paintings he’d left at Murnau. Gabriele refused to cooperate with a stranger, insisting that Kandinsky wrote to her personally. Eventually he submitted to Gabriele’s wishes, but it sparked an acrimonious correspondence, resulting in a long dispute over property in which lawyers were involved.
Gabriele was not concerned with material gain, for her it was a matter of moral amends. An agreement was eventually reached; some pictures were returned to Kandinsky, but the majority were placed in storage, the cost of which was carried by Gabriele. The episode negated any lingering affection they had for one another.
In 1927 at a small New Years Eve Party, when Gabriele was almost fifty-one years old, she met the art historian and lecturer, Johannes Eichner. They came to be friends and after a year, Johannes Eichner became Gabriele’s second partner. The relationship was never one of passion, but Eichner was loving and supportive of Gabriele and her art.
After touring France in 1930, the couple returned to the abandoned house in Murnau, which they began to restore, making it their permanent home.
With Johannes, Gabriele’s health and emotional condition became more stable and her creative ideas returned. She began to work efficiently again, inspired by her garden and the surrounding landscape
In 1931 Johannes Eichner encouraged Gabriele to exhibit and he organised a retrospective exhibition that travelled around Germany for two years. The exhibition aroused hostility from National Socialist supporters, so Eichner advised Gabriele to tone her style and make more commercially viable work, in view of the increasing repression and censorship of modernist art by the Nazi party.
From the mid 1930s and during the war years Gabriele focused on realistic painting, in particular still life, flowers or non-provocative portraits of the people of Murnau. They spent the Second World War living in isolation, their financial circumstances were acutely reduced, so paintings were sometimes made in exchange for food.
The political situation was quite uncertain at this time and Gabriele decided to move her store of art works by Kandinsky and other Blaue Reiter artists to her Murnau home, where the collection was hidden in the basement, faithfully preserved from seizure by the Nazis. Her treasure trove was not discovered despite several house searches.
Meanwhile Kandinsky had been forced to leave the Bauhaus to escape the persecutions of the Hitler regime, he moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris, where he died in 1944.
Between 1946 and 1957 there was a revival of interest in German modernism, the Blaue Reiter in particular. Gabriele Münter was visited by several art critics and art historians, who invited her to help organise a large exhibition of the Blaue Reiter in 1949 in Munich. The director of the Stadtische Galerie in Lenbachhaus met Gabriele in 1950 and would gradually discover what an incredible collection of paintings she owned, including eighty oil paintings and 330 drawings by Kandinsky alone.
There were also works by Paul Klee, Marc Macke and Jawlensky. On the celebration of her eightieth birthday, in 1957 Gabriele Münter donated her priceless collection together with many of her own works to the Lenbachhaus art Museum in Munich, a generous gift which would enable art lovers to explore the diverse creativity of the Blaue Reiter period in our current times.
Johannes Eichner died suddenly the following year in 1958. Gabriele now widowed, remained in her house in Murnau and continued to be visited by art historians and collectors. She lived her later years in relative contentment, corresponding with friends and art experts until the age of eighty-five, when she died in May 1962.
Two years before her death, Gabriele Münter gained international recognition when a large collection of her work was exhibited in the United States in a solo exhibition that featured at the two coasts of Los Angeles and New York. For a woman who had insisted that she was an “artistic amateur”, it was an especially high accolade and a rewarding conclusion to her resolute, valiant artistic career.
Today Gabriele Münter’s works are held in the Lenbach House art Museum in Munich and collections are held in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C., the Milwaukee Art Museum and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Acknowledgements & References
Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter, by Annegret Hoberg, Prestel 1994.
Gabriele Münter. The Search for Expression 1906- 1917. First published 2005 to accompany the exhibition at the Courtauld Institute.
Women Expressionists, Shulamith Behr. Phaidon Press Limited.
OTHER 20TH CENTURY MUSES BY MARINA