The man Franz Marc once called “August Vonderfarbe” or the Baron of Color, August Macke, was born on this date in 1887. In works such as Woman in a Green Jacket (above, from 1913), Macke showed his penchant for bold yet harmonious color as a means of expressing his inner life. Through Marc, Macke met Wassily Kandinsky and joined the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, taking Kandinsky’s spiritual and almost mystical concepts of art and color and applying them to his own art. Like Matisse, one of his earliest influences, Macke demonstrates a pitch perfect sense of how to take apparently dissonant colors and make them work beautifully together, just as the central green jacket of the painting above serves as the central, key note of the entire composition.
In Girls Under Trees (above, from 1914), Macke's interaction with the Orphic painter Robert Delaunay in Paris in 1912 shines through. Delaunay’s style of colorful Cubism fills the landscape of Macke’s pastoral scene. It’s amazing to think of just how quickly Macke assimilated all of these different influences and yet continued to follow his own path. Equally amazing is his ability to continue to create such beautifully composed and balanced work as the equilibrium of Europe teetered in the days leading up to World War I. Unlike his friend Marc, who linked specific colors to certain emotions or states of mind, Macke never made his color choices so specific, choosing instead an overall effect. Perhaps this difference allowed Macke to maintain his composure as the world turned upside down.
Macke’s last, unfinished painting is aptly named Farewell (above, from 1914). In September 1914, just the second month of World War I, Macke died at the front in Champagne, France. In this final work, Macke, the lord of color, finally allows the dark days to intrude upon his painting. The somber figures wandering in the scene seem to be in mourning, as if returning from a funeral. Rather than the verdant backdrops of his earlier works, the landscape behind the dark-clad mourners seems unreal, made up of discordant shards instead of a coherent picture of the world. It’s interesting to wonder just how Macke would have finished his Farewell, which in its present state so aptly captures that moment of unrest in Europe as well as the unrealized promise of his tragically short life and career.