Depicting a scene of idyllic repose, Schlafende Reiter was painted by August Macke in 1910. Executed in bright colours and displaying a gentle simplicity of forms, the painting illustrates Macke’s vivid style. The previous year, while spending his honeymoon in Paris, the artist almost certainly became acquainted with the revolutionary work of the Fauves. By the end of 1910, Macke had certainly been confronted with Fauvism, for that year he visited a large Matisse exhibition at the Thannhauser in Munich which deeply impressed him. Matisse’s uncompromising use of colour and direct lines gave Macke confirmation of the validity of his own artistic approach. In its spontaneous, radiant rendition, Schlafende Reiter shows Macke’s enthusiastic personal take on Fauvism, while affirming the artist’s distinctively peaceful and joyful vision of nature.
The year 1910 – the year Schlafende Reiter was painted – would mark a crucial moment in Macke’s career, as that is when the artist met Franz Marc. The encounter was significant, for in Marc, Macke found not only a close friend, but also a likeminded painter. Through Marc, Macke was later introduced to painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriel Münter and Alexej von Jawlensky. The following year, Macke figured among the founders of the Avant-garde group Der Blaue Reiter. Although committed to the group’s ambition to foster in painting a genuine, direct and personal response to nature, Macke tended to reject the mystical, spiritual dimension professed by Marc and Kandinsky. Instead, he pursued his own vision of art, which - under the aegis of Fauvism – would occupy him until his premature death, during the First World War, in 1914. Paying homage to his friend, Marc would lament the loss as follows: '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, Eulogy to Macke cited in Anna Meseure, August Macke, Cologne, 2000, p. 92).