Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Protectress

When the Nazis threatened to destroy the works of Der Blaue Reiter group and other modern artists in their quest to eradicate what they deemed “Degenerate Art,” Gabriele Munter, a member of Der Blaue Reiter , spirited many of those works to her countryside home and hid them from certain destruction at great personal risk. Born February 19, 1877, Munter, along with Paula Modersohn-Becker and Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, represents the female contingent of German Expressionism. In 1901, Munter enrolled in the Phalanx School, the art school founded by Wassily Kandinsky, who would become not only her teacher but also her lover. Along with Franz Marc, August Macke, and others, they founded Der Blaue Reiter in 1911. In her painting Boating (above, from 1910), Munter paints Kandinsky standing in the boat, guiding the way as the woman (Munter herself?!) rows the boat. If there’s a great woman behind every great artist, Munter was certainly the one behind Kandinsky at this period of his career.

Munter learned not only from Kandinsky but from all the members of Der Blaue Reiter. She adopted her bold, spiritually charged palette from Marc. From Alexej von Jawlensky, she learned the technique of cloisonnisme, in which the artist darkly outlines all the shapes. Munter used that technique in her portrait of Jawlensky with fellow artist Marianne von Werefkin (above, from 1909). Munter paints her friends with unrecognizable abstraction. If it weren’t for her title, they could be any couple lounging on the grass. With such scenes Munter took common Impressionist subject matter and updated it for the Post-Impressionist world.

When World War I erupted, Kandinsky and Munter fled to Switzerland, escaping the fate of Marc, Macke, and so many other artists killed in the war. Kandinsky later returned to his native Russia and married another woman. Munter and Kandinsky reportedly never saw one another again. Despite that betrayal, Munter always remained true to the art of Kandinsky and her friends, even in the dark days of the Nazi regime. Her Yellow House With Apple Tree (above, from 1910) offers an idyllic scene of the happy home she may have once dreamed of having with Kandinsky. The bright colors and strong outlines that made many of her works seem like stained glass windows often acted as a window into her romantic, faithful soul.