Der Blaue Reiter Art: A Brief Introduction
Der Blaue Reiter group (translated as The Blue Rider group) came together in 1911. The leading members are Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Franz Marc, who created some of the most famous oil paintings in European art history.
What is the Blue Rider movement?
After its foundation in 1911, the Blue Rider art movement lasted three short yet incredibly creative years. During this time, the group transformed approaches to art and mainly influenced later expressionist painters.
As a group of like-minded creatives, Blue Rider artists rejected the approach of the “Neue Künstlervereinigung München” (NKVM). Wassily Kandinsky also founded the NKVM, alongside several other artists who seceded to Der Blaue Reiter group.
The NKVM arranged three exhibitions before the split, with famed painters such as Pablo Picasso and George Braque also contributing. Nonetheless, several members left due to tensions in the group.
Kandinsky felt the NKVM had become too traditional and strict in its artistic approach. He (and others) consequently launched a parallel show in the Moderne Galerie (Munich) in 1911. This exhibition heralded Der Blaue Reiter’s opposing focus.
What is the meaning of Der Blaue Reiter?
Der Blaue Reiter art stemmed from a painting titled Composition V by Wassily Kandinsky. Rejected from a 1911 exhibition of the NKVM, it gave the artists their meaning and creative focus. Blue Rider artists brought individual emotion and spirituality into art, contrasted with the stricter, more conservative approaches of the time.
The group lacked a formal artistic manifesto, meaning their paintings never had one single meaning. Nonetheless, some common characteristics include:
- Bright coloring, often contrasting yellows, reds, greens, and blues.
- Simplistic, stylized forms, taking inspiration from Medieval art and Primitivism.
- A focus on emotional and spiritual communication rather than figurative representation.
- Spontaneous and expressive bold brushstrokes which are freely applied
Some scholars believe the group’s unusual name derives from a Wassily Kandinsky painting of 1903 (titled Blue Rider). Despite this, Kandinsky later described its origins from Franz Marc’s love of horses, Kandinsky’s love of riders and riding, and the two artists’ shared appreciation for blue.
What does the Blue Rider represent?
Whatever the origin of the Der Blaue Reiter name, art historians still debate what Kandinsky’s Blue Rider painting stands for.
It shows a horse rider wearing a vivid blue cloak, rapidly galloping through a green field. A forest is visible in the background, leaves gently turning to oranges and reds. The sky is azure blue, with two clouds lazily floating past. In the foreground and the horizon, deep dark blue shadows seep onto the canvas.
Aside from the literal content, the painting shows Kandinsky’s shift from impressionism toward modern abstract art. It holds the early signs of abstraction and simplified forms that characterized Kandinsky’s later works. Indeed, while paintings such as Landscape (1913) and Composition VIII (1923) focus on simple shapes, primary colors, and dynamic movement, The Blue Rider painting contains the early hints of these ideas.
What did the Blue Rider group do?
While the aims and approaches of each Blue Rider artist differed, they all tried to express spiritual truths in their art, primarily through the symbolic and spiritual associations of color, most notably blue.
For Kandinsky, blue represented esoteric truths and spirituality. The darker the shade of blue, the more it links with eternity and the human desire for truth.
The Blue Rider group strongly supported and championed modern art in activities. They celebrated connections between music, life, and art. In addition, they launched a highly intuitive and spontaneous method of painting. As a result, they organized several popular exhibitions in 1911, 1912, and 1913 that toured Germany.
Edited by Kandinsky and Franz Marc, the group also issued an almanac in early 1912. Der Blaue Reiter Almanach featured poetry, essays, primitive folk art alongside contemporary developments such as Cubism, Expressionism, and Fauvism. The Blue Rider artists planned a second volume, but World War One meant these plans never happened.
Which artists were members of Der Blaue Reiter group?
Wassily Kandinsky founded Der Blaue Reiter group alongside several Russian and German artists, including Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin (both Russian emigres). German painters such as Gabriele Münter, Franz Marc, August Macke, and Paul Klee also joined the group.
Several other members (much less well-known today) included Albert Bloch, Clotilde von Derp, Lyonel Feininger, and Natalia Goncharova.
Here are five leading Der Blaue Reiter artists and some of their most famous artworks:
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
As the group’s leading painter and theorist, Wassily Kandinsky paintings mainly define Der Blaue Reiter art. While his early artworks were relatively conventional, this changed from 1911 onwards.
After this point, Kandinsky avoided direct representations of worldly objects and people and focused on color and form instead. For this reason he is one of the early pioneers of abstract art.
Kandinsky’s artworks were often “Improvisations” or “Compositions” (referencing links with music). Iconic works are Improvisation 23 (1911), Improvisation 30 Cannons (1913), and the extraordinarily colorful and explosive Composition VII (1913).
Franz Marc (1880-1916)
Franz Marc was a key member of Der Blaue Reiter art group. As his career progressed, he often painted animals using vivid, bright colors and broad flowing brushstrokes.
Franz Marc Blue Horse (1911) is one of his most famous oil paintings. Alongside Large Blue Horses (also painted in 1911), these two artworks exemplify the Blue Rider approach.
The colors are deeply symbolic, with rolling red tones accentuating violent emotions. The reds and yellows contrast with the calm serenity of the blue horses, ominously threatened by the shifting, flowing landscapes behind.
Sadly, Franz Marc died fighting at the Battle of Verdun in 1916.
August Macke (1887-1914)
August Macke is a fascinating Blue Rider artist. His early style developed with influences from French Impressionism and Fauvism, evident in paintings such as Anglers on the Rhine (1905). Nonetheless, Macke shifted towards non-objective painting, focusing on symbolism and mysticism through his associations with Marc and Kandinsky.
Macke also incorporated Futurist and Cubist principles in his painting. Unusual townscapes such as Large Bright Shop Window (1912) particularly represent Macke’s Cubist inspiration. Later works such as Lady in Green Jacket (1913) exemplify his colorful yet softer Fauvist compositions.
August Macke also died during World War One. He died serving in Champagne, France, on 26 September 1914.
Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Paul Klee art straddles multiple artistic movements. He transformed European art by working with, Expressionist, Bauhaus, Cubist and Surrealist approaches (in addition to his membership of the Blue Rider Group). Indeed, his writings on color theory (published in Paul Klee Painted Notebooks) are foundational texts of contemporary art.
Alongside Kandinsky, Klee taught at the Bauhaus school of art, design, and architecture, influencing generations of later creatives. Regarding their friendship, Klee commented that he felt “a deep trust” in Kandinsky due to his “exceptionally beautiful and lucid mind.”
The art of Paul Klee reflected his infamous dry humor and intelligence, mainly seen in paintings such as Shelter for Four and Flower Bed (both painted in 1913). In these works, he elevated the simplicity and beauty of everyday subjects to create some of the most famous abstract oil paintings of all time.
Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941)
Last but not least, in this introduction to Der Blaue Reiter artist is Alexej von Jawlensky. He met Marianne von Werefkin while in St Petersburg, financially supporting his art and making several critical artistic introductions.
The pair moved to Munich in 1894, where they met Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter. Becoming close friends, they all contributed to the Neue Künstlervereinigung München before its split to form the Blue Rider Group.
Characteristic Jawlensky paintings of this era include a pair of particularly colorful self-portraits (both painted in 1912). During the war, this developed into more abstract creations such as Variation When The Lark is Singing and the later iconic Mystical Heads series.
When did the Blue Rider movement end?
Despite their pioneering work, the group’s work came to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Both August Macke and Franz Marc died in combat.
As Russian citizens, Marianne von Werefkin, Alexej von Jawlensky, and Kandinsky returned to Moscow during the outbreak of hostilities.
After peace returned to Europe, Kandinsky formed The Blue Four (Die Blaue Vier) in 1923. Alongside Jawlensky, Feininger, and Klee (supported by their art dealer, Galka Scheyer), the four toured America from 1924 onwards.
They kept the original focus of Der Blaue Reiter group for several years but later went separate ways.
Der Blaue Reiter Art: Oil Painting Reproductions
If you love Der Blaue Reiter art, explore our extensive collection of hand painted oil painting reproductions and replica art. Whether your preference is for Wassily Kandinsky paintings, Franz Marc’s Blue Horse, or the art of Paul Klee, discover museum-quality oil paintings from our art gallery online.