Los Angeles

Gabriele Münter

Dalzell Hatfield Gallery

It is certainly more good luck than merit to be at the right place at the right time, but it means nothing if one is not aloof and courageous enough to step forth in the right direction. Gabriele Münter’s name will forever be remem­bered because she stepped forth with the “firsts,” with the avant-garde of modern art, fifty years ago.

Gabriele Münter returned to Germany in 1900 from a two year visit with rela­tives in the U.S.A. She settled in Munich in order to continue her studies in painting, but the traditional schools did not suit her. She enrolled, in 1902, as one of the few students in Wassily Kandinsky’s Phalanx School, where she could work according to her own con­cept of strong expression by means of simplified and clear forms, and un­broken, pure color. She soon became an understanding and inspiring companion and friend. There was a mutual ex­change of pictorial ideas in the circle of Kandinsky and the painters around him. Gabriele Münter was influenced by Kandinsky and even more by Jawlensky, but she also developed her own scheme of composition, form and color and her own bold brushstroke, translating the motifs of the Bavarian landscape into her pictorial language. Wisely aware of her limitations, she never abandoned subject matter and reference to nature, but she encouraged and perhaps in­spired Kandinsky in his experiments towards abstraction. Soon the pictorial expression of the avant-garde became too loud and outspoken to be tolerated in the traditional exhibitions. Kandin­sky, Gabriele Münter and their friends founded the “Neue Kuenstlervereinigung Muenchen,” exhibiting for the first time at the Gallery Thannhause, December 1909. A short time later, when some ar­tists of the Vereinigung objected to Kandinsky’s large canvases, the group split. Fourteen artists,* headed by Kan­dinsky, formed a new, longer lasting and more adequate group, “Der Blaue Reiter,” which made history. At present, after 50 years, memorial exhibitions were presented in Munich, Paris, New York and other cities. These exhibits are still impressive, young and alive.

The Gabriele Münter Memorial Exhi­bition at Dalzell Hatfield in Los Angeles is a good survey of her work, represent­ing more than 60 years of painting. There are pictures of various periods, including some made at the end of her life in 1962, when she had reached the age of 85. One is amazed at the con­sistent even strength of her work, al­though it is without any great develop­ment, without the torment and distor­tion of some of the “Bruecke” artists. When Gabriele Münter’s inner harmony was disturbed after the separation from Kandinsky, she stopped painting for ten years. But when she had found her balance again, she continued painting with the same positive view of the world as before, with the same bold brush stroke and the same honesty. One could call her the most conserva­tive of the avant-garde artists of her time. The portrait “Kandinsky at the Tea Table” is included in the Dalzell Hatfield exhibition. It is an almost pos­terlike composition. The color areas are separated by black outlines as in stained glass windows. Young Kandinsky’s intel­lectual and sensitive face is framed by a brown beard and brown hair. It is both spiritual in concept and part of the still life below. The shadowless greens and blues are interrupted by the excit­ing colors of oranges and some small red objects. The diagonal of the compo­sition is partly carried by the felt par­rot (actually a tea pot warmer) intro­ducing a good sense of humor into the painting.

The portrait of Paul Klee was not even conceived as a portrait, but as the study of an interior with a horizontal division of the picture plane by a wall filled in a regular pattern with square framed pictures. Small white triangular objects bring a contrast to the motif of the square, triangles appear, larger, in the crossed legs in white pants be­longing to a figure sunk in the square large armchair. But the glory of the square is expressed by the face of the man, reduced to the simplest form. It is unmistakably Klee’s face, with his “thinking eyes.” Gabriele Münter, by a sort of subconscious geometry made a portrait with an inner truth.

Macke once said of Gabriele Münter that she “had an unreflecting naivete.” Franz Marc called her “die grossartige Gabriele Münter.” (The magnificent Ga­briele M.) She was in fact magnificent. In her house in Murnau near Munich she kept a great number of Kandin­sky’s paintings which he left there, when in 1914 at the beginning of World War I, he left Germany for Russia. Gabriele Münter was a true Custodian, preserving these paintings. She suc­ceeded in hiding them from the Nazis. Then she bequeathed all these: paint­ings, representing now a value of mil­lions, to the City of Munich.

Don Factor



*A very international group: Kandinsky and the brothers Burliuk were Russian; A. Bloch, American, living in Germany; E. Kahler came from Prague; Franz Marc, Macke, Campen­donk, Münter, Niestle and Arnold Schoen­berg were from different parts of Germany; Delauney and Epstein were French.