“MUNICH was radiant,” wrote Thomas Mann, a Nobel prize-winning novelist, in 1902. “Art swayed the destinies of the town.” The German city, which rivalled Paris as a magnet for artists in the early 20th century, also swayed the destinies of the artists drawn there from as far away as Russia and America.
In 1911 the boldest of them formed the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) group led by a Russian, Vasily Kandinsky, then aged 45, and the 31-year-old Franz Marc—its only Munich native. Among the others were Paul Klee, Alexei Jawlensky, August Macke and Gabriele Münter.
Benin bronzes, children’s art and medieval embroideries were among the influences that shaped their vision, as did modernist music, Matisse and Picasso. The Blue Rider group was all about opening up boundaries. Though short-lived (it disbanded at the start of the first world war), the group would prove hugely influential in the decades that followed.
This revolution can be seen at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, home to the largest and best Blue Rider collection in the world. The museum, which closed in 2009 while a new addition designed by Sir Norman Foster was being built, reopened this month. The new two-storey wing is provoking widespread grumbles (“It looks like a suburban supermarket,” one recent visitor was heard to say). The metallic, dull-gold finish clashes with the yellow-ochre stucco of the original building, an Italianate villa. But the Blue Rider group has benefited.
The paintings fill the new top floor of well-lit galleries. The display is broadly chronological: early works to the right of the staircase, late ones to the left. Each room is vividly decorated. The Marc paintings hang against walls of duck-egg blue; Kandinsky’s are set off by black silk moiré (an upmarket homage to the first Blue Rider exhibition where the walls were covered in black paper).
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