'We painters know that without his harmonies, whole octaves of colour will disappear from German art, and the sounds of the colours remaining will become duller and sharper. He gave a brighter and purer sound to colour than any of us; he gave it the clarity and brightness of his whole being.'
Franz Marc on August Macke
In 1912, the twenty-five year-old Macke saw the pivotal Italian Futurist exhibition organized by Herwarth Walden at Galerie der Sturm in Berlin. The impact of this exhibition on the German avant-garde and Der Blaue Reiter in particular was phenomenal. The young Germans were confronted by paintings which were quintessentially different to the more conformist impressionist pictures of Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth, and even more explosive than the Dangast pictures of Die Brücke. Here were complex, intellectual pictures filled with radiant lines, colour, movement and a completely new language of two-dimensional space. Notable Futurist pictures in the Sturm exhibition included Umberto Boccioni's Visioni Simultanee, 1911 (M. Calvesi, no. 687), in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Shortly afterwards, in late 1912, Macke and Franz Marc visited Robert Delaunay in Paris. Delaunay's work was already familiar to them as were his avant-garde theories regarding pictorial composition and the new language of 'Orphism'. From the Futurists Macke and Marc learned the importance of dramatic light effects and the way to convey movement in two-dimensions.
Motifs of contemporary urban life such as people promenading began to dominate the subject matter of Macke’s work, and during this period had become merely a vehicle for the expression of his concept of the world as a harmonious 'earthly paradise', that he described as 'nature imbued with joy'. This idealistic almost utopian vision of the world was something that Macke believed could be mirrored in painting through a simple harmonious correspondence between form and colour. In the present work, Macke adapted his painting method to accommodate the subtleties of working with pastel and watercolour, devising a feathering technique which at once gave extraordinary surface and subtlety to the sheet. Moreover, as we see here in Spaziergänger, he began to use a combination of hot and very pure colours to fill his works with strong contrasts and a radiance surpassing even the bravest experiments of Delaunay.
Like Seurat's portraits of the Paris bourgeoisie enjoying their Sunday off Spaziergänger is a very strictly ordered work relying on a carefully orchestrated balance of form between figure and landscape, shape and colour. Almost devoid of personality, Macke's anonymous city dwellers punctuate and articulate the landscape without disturbing it. Built in such a way as to convey a deep sense of the harmonious union between all the elements of the work, the world that Macke describes in these late works is a highly idealized one of peace and serenity. It is a vision of a world in which man and nature integrate in perfect accord - a world which, within only some months of this picture being executed, was to be lost forever. On the 4th August 1914 the First World War broke out and Macke was drafted into the German army. On the 26th September he fell at Perthe-les-Hurles in Champagne, leaving Spaziergänger amongst his last serious body of work.
Magdalenea Moeller has drawn similar observations on Macke's achievement in capturing a sense of harmony and balance in another work from this period, Promenade, 1913 (Heiderich, no. 527) describing the manner in which, 'The picture, which shows people at leisure, is a record of a fleeting moment … If one looks at the work more closely, the scene takes on an air of unreality; one notices a strange sense of stillness. Despite the dynamic element in the colours and composition, everything seems frozen and static' (quoted in, exh. cat. The Blue Rider, Lenbachhaus, Munich, 2000, no. 105). Transmitting a sense of transience in the scene in which it depicts, particularly through the acutely dynamic handling of composition and medium, Spaziergänger embraces the '… poetic visions of everyday life painted with unabashed joy and with a deep, fervent commitment' (Elisabeth Macke, quoted in, ibid, no. 105), yet also establishes a sense of gravity through its impressive scale, rich and intensely rendered surface.