Der Blaue Reiter
Blue Rider German Expressionist Art Movement, Founded by Kandinsky.

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Head (1910)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
One of the greatest and most
colourful expressionist paintings.
By Alexei Von Jawlensky, known as
the "Russian Matisse".

Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) (1911-14)
Expressionist Art Group in Munich

Like Die Brucke, an avant-garde painting movement in Dresden, Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) was an important German Expressionism group. Founded in Munich in 1911, as an offshoot from the larger association known as Neue Kunstlervereiningung (NKV), also called the New Artist Federation, the name "Blue Rider" derives from a small picture by Wassily Kandinsky (1844-1944), the driving force behind the group. A Russian-born painter, who had settled in Munich in 1896, he had his own school of art in the city and was President of the Phalanx art group. Another important founding member of Blaue Reiter was the German painter and printmaker Franz Marc (1880-1916). Although it existed for just three years, the Blue Rider group produced some of the greatest 20th century paintings and is considered by art critics to mark the high point of expressionism in Germany. The centre for much of this activity was the influential Sturm Gallery, in Berlin - founded by the left-wing critic Herwarth Walden (1879-1941) - which became a focus for a number of progressive 20th century painters from across Europe.

Zoological Garden I (1912)
Lenbachhaus Gallery, Munich.
By Auguste Macke.

Autumn in Murnau (1908)
Private Collection
By Wassily Kandinsky.

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.

Style of Expressionism

Unlike the more coherent Die Brucke group, Blue Rider remained a loose association of expressionist painters, with no unified style, except possibly a spiritual rather than a Die Brucke-style earthly focus in their painting. Although in 1912 Kandinsky and Marc published their Almanach Der Blaue Reiter, a collection of essays on art, the group had no artistic program, being no more than a cluster of fellow-travellers interested in things like reviving the spiritual value of art, the psychological use of colour in painting (especially blue, which reportedly had a special meaning for Kandinsky), and primitive art and culture. The group's core members numbered only five: Kandinsky and Marc, plus Paul Klee (1879-1940), August Macke (1887-1914), and the 'Russian Matisse' - Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941). Many other artists participated in Blaue Reiter exhibitions, including the Dutch expressionist Heinrich Campendonk (1889-1957), the Fauvists Andre Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, the Russians Vladimir and David Burlyuk (1882-1967), Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, and Kandinsky's partner Gabriele Munter (1887-1914), however it is the five core members who personify the notion of a group.

For details of the best modern
painters, since 1800, see:
Famous Painters (1830-2010)

For a guide to the different,
categories/meanings of visual
arts, see: Definition of Art.


The first official Blaue Reiter art exhibition opened in Munich at the Moderne Galerie Thannhauser, in December 1911. In March 1912, it travelled to Berlin where it inaugurated the Sturm Gallery, followed by Cologne and Frankfurt. A second exhibition followed in 1912, at the Hans Goltz Gallery, in Munich. There were no further 'official' shows of the group, but all five core members were active in the general expressionist movement: they were represented at the great Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne, in 1912, and the acclaimed First German Salon d'Automne Exhibition at the Sturm Gallery in Berlin, in 1913.

The group was dispersed by the effects of World War I. August Macke was killed in 1914, Franz Marc in 1916, while Jawlensky fled to Switzerland. Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky joined the Bauhaus Design school as instructors under Walter Gropius (1883-1969). In 1924, these three - at the suggestion of the German art dealer Galka Scheyer (1889-1945) - joined with the German-American painter Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) to form Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four), as a sort of umbrella brand under which to market their paintings in the USA. Exhibitions were held in Mexico and America. Later, during the 1930s several Blue Rider artists were banned by the authorities during the Nazi campaign against Degenerate Art ("entartete kunst"). Finally, in 1949, a retrospective exhibition of works by the Der Blaue Reiter expressionist group was organized in Munich. See also: History of Expressionist Painting (c.1880-1930).

Blaue Reiter Works

Important paintings which exemplify this particular pre-war idiom of German Expressionism include:

Wassily Kandinsky
The Blue Rider (1903, Private Collection)
Autumn in Murnau (1908, Private Collection)
Autumn in Bavaria (1908, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris)
Winter Landscape (1909, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg)
Bedroom in Aintmillerstrasse (1909, Lenbachhaus Gallery, Munich)
Interior, My Dining Room (1909, Stadtischegallerie, Munich)
Cossacks (1910, Private Collection)

Franz Marc
The Large Blue Horses (1911, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis)
Tiger (1912, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich)
Little Blue Horse (1912, Saarland Museum)

Alexei von Jawlensky
Head (c.1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Head of a Woman (1911, National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh)
Head of a Woman 'Medusa' (1923, Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon)

August Macke
Zoological Garden I (1912, Lenbachhaus Gallery, Munich)
Woman in a Green Jacket (1913, Ludwig Museum, Cologne)
Girls Under Trees (1914, Private Collection, Austria)

Key Collections

Although works by Blaue Reiter artists hang in many of the world's best art museums, good collections can be viewed at these institutions:

- Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
- Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York
- Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
- Tate Gallery, London

For a later German Expressionist style, see: Die Neue Sachlichkeit.

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