Blind Contour Drawing #18 – Malade by Gabriele Munter, 1917
Though not widely known, the German painter, Gabriele Münter made important contributions to the art of the twentieth century.
Münter was born to upper middle class parents in Berlin. She began to draw and play piano as a child and her family supported her love of art. She had a private tutor and took classes at the Woman’s Artist School, since women were not allowed to enroll in German Academies.
Both her parents died before she turned 21. Munter and her sister inherited a large amount of money, allowing them to live freely and independently. Since she didn’t feel challenged by her schooling, the two young women decided take a trip to the United States to visit extended family. They stayed for over two years, mainly in the state of Texas. Munter took this time for self study and there are 6 of her sketchbooks that survived that period. They depict images of people, plants and landscapes in the United States.
Returning to Germany, she enrolled in the Phalanx School of art in Munich in 1902. There she began to attend classes in still life, landscape, woodcut techniques, sculpture, and printmaking. She became romantically involved with the director of the school, Wassily Kandinsky. Their relationship lasted over 10 years.
In 1911 she formed Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) with Kandinsky. The group included Franz Marc, August Macke, Alexej von Jawlensky and Paul Klee. The Blue Rider was one of the most important German group of artists of the 20th century
They promoted the connection between visual art and music and were inspired by the work of Henri Rousseau, spiritually-based color theory, and Bavarian folk art.
Münter exhibited paintings at the Blaue Reiter exhibitions of 1911 and 1912. She shared the groups love of intense colour and expressiveness of line but her still lifes, figures, and landscapes remained representational rather than abstract.
At the beginning of WWI, she moved all of the works done by her, Kandinsky, and the other members of the Blaue Reiter to her house, where she hid them. She was able to preserve them despite several searches of the home, the pieces were never found. On her eightieth birthday, she gave her entire collection, more than 80 oil paintings and 330 drawings, to the Städtische Galerie in the Lenbachhaus in Munich.
After the war, Münter and Kandinsky went separate ways. She was inactive for a few years after their relationship ended but begain painting again in the late 1920s. Her palette changed and her focus too. She often painted portraits of women. She moved back to Germany with art historian, Johannes Eichner.
Münter’s work was exhibited in the 1960s in the U.S. for the first time and was shown at Mannheim Kunsthalle in 1961. The Gabrielle Münter and Johannes Eichner foundation was established and has become a valuable research center for Münter’s art, as well as the art that was done by Der Blaue Reiter group. Münter lived the rest of her life in Murnau, traveling back and forth to Munich. She died at her Murnau home on May 19 1962.
Throughout her 60-year artistic career she created more than 2000 paintings, several thousand drawings, water-colours, stained glass, prints and around 1200 photographs, and today she is increasingly considered to have made a striking contribution to the art of the twentieth century.