Ways to support us
About The Art Story a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Org
Der Blaue Reiter Collage

Der Blaue Reiter

Started: 1911
Ended: 1914
Der Blaue Reiter Timeline
"The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul, so that it can weigh colors in its own scale and thus become a determinant in artistic creation."
1 of 6
Wassily Kandinsky Signature
"These two possible resemblances between the art forms of today and those of the past will be at once recognized as diametrically opposed to one another. The first, being purely external, has no future. The second, being internal, contains the seed of the future within itself."
2 of 6
Wassily Kandinsky Signature
"I knew that I must paint not what I saw, but only what was in me, in my soul. Figuratively speaking, it was like this: in my heart, I felt as if there were an organ, which I had to sound. And nature, which I saw before me, only prompted me. And that was a key that unlocked this organ and made it sound."
3 of 6
Alexej von Jawlensky
"Color is a power which directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul."
4 of 6
Wassily Kandinsky Signature
"Only today can art be metaphysical, and it will continue to be so. Art will free itself from the needs and desires of men. We will no longer paint a forest or a horse as we please or as they seem to us, but as they really are."
5 of 6
Franz Marc Signature
"What I most cherish is the observation of the movement of colors. Only in this have I found the laws of those simultaneous and complementary color contrasts that nourish the actual rhythm of my vision. In this I find the actual essence, an essence which is not born out of an a priori system or theory."
6 of 6
August Macke

Summary of Der Blaue Reiter

One of the two pioneering movements of German Expressionism, Der Blaue Reiter began in Munich as an abstract counterpart to Die Brücke's distorted figurative style. While both confronted feelings of alienation within an increasingly modernizing world, Der Blaue Reiter sought to transcend the mundane by pursuing the spiritual value of art. Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter were the theoretical centers of the group, which included a number of Russian immigrants and native Germans. This internationalism led the group to mount several traveling exhibitions during their brief tenure, making them an indispensable force in the promotion of early avant-garde painting.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • Though Der Blaue Reiter had no official manifesto, Kandinsky's treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1910) laid out several of its guiding principles. Concerning the Spiritual crystallized the group's pursuit of non-objective or abstract painting and was widely read in avant-garde artistic circles across Europe and beyond.
  • Der Blaue Reiter painting was structured around an idea that color and form carried concrete spiritual values. Thus, the move into abstraction resulted partly from radically separating form and color into discrete elements within a painting or applying non-naturalistic color to recognizable objects. The name "Der Blaue Reiter" referred to Kandinsky and Marc's belief that blue was the most spiritual color and that the rider symbolized the ability to move beyond.
  • In searching for a language that would express their unique approach to abstract visual form, the artists of Der Blaue Reiter drew parallels between painting and music. Often naming their works Compositions, Improvisations, and Études (among other things), they explored music as the abstract art par excellence, lacking as it does a tangible or figurative manifestation. This also led them to explore notions of synesthesia, the crossing or "union" of the senses in perceiving color, sound, and other stimuli.
  • Beside its own groundbreaking artists, Der Blaue Reiter's traveling exhibitions featured the leading proponents of Fauvism, Cubism, and the Russian avant-garde, creating a vital central European forum for the development and proliferation of modern art.

Overview of Der Blaue Reiter

Der Blaue Reiter Image

In January of 1909, Wassily Kandinsky proposed forming a new group of like-minded artists in opposition to traditional exhibition venues, the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (Munich New Artists' Association), a secession movement that contained several future members of Der Blaue Reiter. The founders included Kandinsky's Russian compatriots Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin, as well as the Germans Gabriele Munter, Alexander Kanoldt, and the German-American Adolf Erbsloh. Aside from their desire to "secede" from the mainstream art institution and their dedication to modern art, these artists shared an expressionistic visual style culled partly from the example of Fauvism and partly from turn-of-the-century Symbolism, as exemplified by artists like Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt.

Key Artists

  • A member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and later a teacher at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky is best known for his pioneering breakthrough into expressive abstraction in 1913. His work prefigures that of the American Abstract Expressionists.
  • Franz Marc was a German painter and printmaker, and one of the pioneers of German Expressionism. Along with August Macke and Kandinksy, Marc founded The Blue Rider artist group. A student of Futurism and Cubism, Marc was a master of color and depth, and a major influence on mid-twentieth-century abstractionists.
  • Münter's name is linked with Wasily Kandinsky, but more importantly she is contributed to twentieth century modernism.
  • The Swiss-born painter Paul Klee worked in a variety of styles, including Expressionism, geometric abstraction, and collage. His most famous works have a mystical quality and make use of linear and pictorial symbols.
  • Lyonel Feininger was a German-American painter and caricaturist associated with the Die Brucke and Der Blaue Rider groups. He painted in an original style reminiscent of Cubism and Futurism, but he is most famous for helping Walter Gropius build the Bauhaus school where Feininger taught until the school was closed down by the Nazis.
View all

Do Not Miss

  • Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany and beyond, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
  • Die Brücke (The Bridge) was a group of German Expressionist artists that banded together in Dresden in 1905. The group, which includes artists such as Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Emil Nolde, had a major impact on the evolution of modern art in the twentieth century and the creation of Expressionism. Die Bruke artists' used bold colors to depicts gritty scene of city life.

Important Art and Artists of Der Blaue Reiter

Self-Portrait (c. 1910)

Artist: Marianne von Werefkin

A founding member of the Neue Künstvereinigung Munchen (NKvM), Marianne von Werefkin later joined Der Blaue Reiter. Her Self-Portrait of 1910 exemplifies the experimentation of the former group and the semi-abstract manipulation of form and color that would develop in the latter. Her loose, dynamic brushwork shows the early influence of Vincent van Gogh on the NKvM artists and her use of arbitrary color is reminiscent of their study of Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch. Indeed, the haunting tone she culled from her choice of clashing, vibrant hues, the flattened space of her composition, and the figure's confrontational red-eyed gaze carry all the emotional and symbolic weight of Munch's The Scream, while demonstrating several elements that prefigured the expressionistic painting of Der Blaue Reiter.

Cover of Der Blaue Reiter Almanach (1911)

Artist: Wassily Kandinsky

The name Der Blaue Reiter is widely considered to derive from a 1903 Symbolist canvas by Kandinsky. However, when Kandinsky painted that early canvas, perhaps indebted more to Gustav Klimt or Les Nabis, he had not yet developed the theory of color symbolism he would publish in Concerning the Spiritual in Art. His woodcut cover for Der Blaue Reiter's almanac (published in 1912) is thus more in keeping with the movement's aesthetic and ideals. First, the choice of the bold, flat, "primitive" woodcut format reveals Der Blaue Reiter's focus on direct representation and interest in Primitivism. The choice of the semi-abstract "blue rider," with the color blue symbolizing intense spirituality and the rider symbolizing transcendent mobility, makes Kandinsky's print into a visual manifesto of his key concepts. Beyond his visual offerings, Kandinsky was central to the group as a theorist, and behind this cover he continued that role by publishing two essays and an experimental theater piece.

The Yellow Cow (1911)

Artist: Franz Marc

Before and during his years in Der Blaue Reiter, Marc developed a color theory that ran parallel and occasionally overlapped with Kandinsky's. In a 1910 letter to August Macke, he wrote: "Blue is the male principle, astringent and spiritual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, gay, and spiritual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the color to be opposed and overcome by the other two." In Yellow Cow, then, Marc portrayed his emblem of femininity, resounding in its joyous spirituality, barely able to be suppressed or even balanced out by the opposing colors that surround it. Marc was predominantly a painter of animals, and pantheistic "back-to-nature" groups, popular in turn-of-the-century Germany, influenced his idea of spiritualism. Taking a stance closely related to Primitivism, Marc considered animals to be closer to an innate, natural state of spirituality that mankind lost with civilization.

Useful Resources on Der Blaue Reiter

Do more

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Der Blaue Reiter Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 21 Apr 2015. Updated and modified regularly
[Accessed ]