Peter Walter and Dr. Isabelle Jansen will include this work in their forthcoming Gabriele Münter catalogue raisonné.
As a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter and one of very few women working at the center of Munich's avant-garde circle, Gabriele Münter played a significant role in charting the emergence of a new visual vocabulary in Modern art. From a young age, Münter yearned to be an artist, and in 1901 she enrolled in the short-lived, experimental Phalanx School. Co-founded by Wassily Kandinsky, the school was one of the only places in Germany where women could study alongside men. In Kandinsky, Münter found a mentor that truly enabled her development as an artist. He recognized her natural talent and encouraged her progress, inviting her to join his plein-air landscape painting lessons in Kochel, Walchensee and Kallmunz.
Münter soon became intimately involved with the married Kandinsky. From 1903-1907, she traveled extensively with him through Europe and North Africa, where she familiarized herself with the aesthetic ideas of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, the Fauves and Henri Matisse--influences that would emerge in her painting after the couple returned to Germany in April 1908. Once back in Munich, Münter and Kandinsky began touring the Bavarian countryside in search of a place to spend time together. They visited the areas of Starnberger See and Staffelsee, where they came across the village of Murnau. The picturesque location of Murnau in the rolling hills by the Staffelsee, with its view of the Wetterstein Alps, presented a compelling visual environment for the artists. Additionally, the reality of a simple, rustic life led close to nature reminded Kandinsky of his beloved Russia. Münter and Kandinsky joined their artist friends Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky, and together painted the village and surrounding landscape, contributing to a new phase of undisturbed and intense creativity for both artists.
Münter's paintings underwent a massive transformation in Murnau. As she later recalled, "After a short period of agony I took a great leap forward from copying nature, in a more or less Impressionist style, to feeling the content of things, abstracting, conveying an extract" (quoted in A. Hoberg, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter: Letters and Reminiscences, 1902-1914, Munich, 1994, p. 14). In Murnau, Münter, together with the other members of her group, forged a new type of painting characterized by bold simplification, flattened spatial perspective and vivid use of color. This profound change was partly inspired by the expressivity and sincerity she identified in children's artwork, which she began to collect in 1908, and the outlined planes of pure color found in traditional Bavarian glass painting common to the village. Jawlensky, who was well acquainted with the Pont-Aven school of artists and the Nabis, also played a significant role in the evolution of Münter's new style, introducing the concept of synthesis between the observable world and an expressive response to form and color.
The brightly colored houses of Murnau complemented Münter's obsession with chromatics and the distillation of forms. As seen in Gasse im Murnau, the continuous planes, windows and shutters of the market town gave the artist many options for contrasts within a restricted space, allowing her to impose a structure that made the perspective of her composition secondary to the relationships between broad areas of bright color. Indeed, the row of houses in the present work reads as one straight line receding into the distance. The windows are each marked by a quick brushstroke of black or dark blue, and the façades of the houses are filled with solid color. Particularly in the green house, the side and front walls are barely distinguishable from one another. The sky is delineated through short horizontal strokes of blue, interrupted with bands of white to represent the clouds. The house in the foreground is also particularly simplified, composed of large, solid geometric shapes of color. The grass on the street is depicted with one swath of green against the grey road, and then another solid patch of color next to the house in the foreground. Here, Münter's use of flat blocks of color condenses the essential components of the scene expressively rendered with swift, vigorous brushwork.
In comparison to Kandinsky's depiction of a similar scene painted the same year (fig. 2), Münter's use of color is more realistic and her brushstrokes are longer, though the treatment of the sky is similar in both works. Where Münter paints the roofs monochromatically, Kandinsky uses short, thick squares of different colors to show the play of light on the surface. His image is more abstracted, particularly in the lower left quadrant, where a kaleidoscope of colors forms an unidentified pile. Münter did not share Kandinsky's drive towards a transcendental form of non-objective art, the beginnings of which can already be perceived in this early work.
The years in Murnau were critical for Münter, as it was there that she developed a style of painting from which she would deviate only slightly throughout the rest of her life. With the onset of the First World War, the landscape of the Munich art world was irrevocably changed. Kandinsky and Jawlensky, as Russians, were forced to leave Germany. Münter stayed with Kandinsky in Switzerland for a time before he left for Russia, but after a brief reunion in Stockholm in 1916, the couple permanently parted. During the thirties and forties, her work was vehemently criticized by the Nationalist Socialist Party, limiting her artistic activities until after the Second World War. Today, Münter is widely appreciated for her contribution as a major participant in a revolutionary movement which reinvented color, form and meaning in painting.
(fig. 1) Photograph of Alexej von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, Jawlensky's son Andreas, and Gabriele Münter (from left to right) in Murnau, 1908.
(fig. 2) Wassily Kandinsky, Gasse im Murnau, 1908. Private collection.