Executed in 1918, this painting derives ultimately from a wide range of compositional ideas that Campendonk experimented with at the height of his involvement with the Blaue Reiter in 1914. At the invitation of Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, Campendonk had moved to Sindelsdorf in Southern Bavaria in 1911, to live and work near the group of artists who had just then recently seceded from the Neue Künstler-Vereinigung München ('The New Artist's Association of Munich') and were to become known as Die Blaue Reiter. It was there, during the next three years, that Campendonk's art underwent a dramatic change. Strongly moved by the simple bold forms of the Bavaria folk paintings that he saw in the farms and homes of the peasants with whom he was living, Campedonk combined these with the elegant styling and composition of Japanese pen and ink drawings into a syncretist primitivism all of his own. In his choice of subject matter Campendonk's art was also heavily influenced by this new rural environment, and in particular by the work his friend and mentor Franz Marc.
Marc's vividly coloured and abstracted paintings of animals were at this time the main driving force for all the Blaue Reiter artists. Like Marc, Campendonk came to believe in the popularist and idealised view of Nature as a lost paradise that modern man had, to his detriment, become divorced from. Animals and the harmonious way in which they related to and interacted with their natural surroundings clearly illustrated the ideal symbiotic relationship with Nature and the cosmos that modern man had tragically lost. Seeking to reintegrate Man within Nature as a means of healing the malaise of the modern world, Marc and Campendonk together sought out a simple and primitive art, founded on such idealistic faith in a benign Nature.
This work of 1918 is one of Campendonk's fullest and finest expressions of this ideal of man, animal and nature, living together in a harmonious and integrated idyll. With its complex and convoluted conjunction of a whole range of flowing forms and heightened planes of intense colour, all interacting and interrelating within one compressive elongated form, this work offers up a harmonious and holistic view of man, animal and nature wholly at odds with the troubled and divisive times in which it was created.
The origins of this work lie in a fascinating and highly important watercolour that Campendonk made in 1914, entitled Der Karren, now in the Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf. In this work, with its more sombre muted colours, its dark clad carriage drivers and its apocalyptic sickle moon crowning the peak of a distant mountain, the mood was more one of melancholy or foreboding. In this far more joyous and united oil version painted in 1918, with its radiant colour and light, colourful clothing and sinuous interflowing forms, Campendonk indicates the idyllic harmony of the scene by including a rainbow and the red disc of the sun alongside the crescent moon. Here, man and animal, land and sky, heaven and earth all clearly coexist in blissful union.
Recalling in some respects a work such as Franz Marc's 1912 painting Der Wasserfall, in its use of such form and colour harmony, this painting also reflects the widespread influence that Marc Chagall's work played on much German Expressionist art during the war period. An exhibition of Chagall's paintings at the Der Sturm gallery in Berlin along repeated illustrations of his work in the Der Sturm periodical at this time established Chagall as 'the Russian Expressionist'. The magic realism of Chagall's folksy art, along with the influence of a variety of other folk influences, ranging from the simplified forms of Bavarian folk art to the practice of Hinterglasmalerie, are all combined in this work to give an exuberant and kaleidoscopic view of pastoral life as a magical almost fairy-tale landscape of joy and natural wonder.