Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Writing about Gabriele Muenter

Over a decade ago, before I moved into my own Munich apartment (above an Italian restaurant on Moosacherstrasse, near Olympiazentrum and the BMW plant), I stayed for a month with a wonderful host family in chic Pachmayer Platz. Utz and Brigitte took me to the southern Bavarian house of painter Gabriele Muenter, a prominent figure in the German Expressionist movement and companion to Wassily Kandinsky, her instructor at the progressive Phlanax School.

Above is a painting by Muenter of the two of them at a dining table, ostensibly in the sweet Murnau house, with its bright flower garden, white stucco walls, and Delft-blue shutters. If the house was open when we went, I do not remember the inside, only how it appeared as I walked around it. Most vivid in my mind are the outbuildings, which featured displays of reverse-painted glass depicting Saint George and the Dragon, a story that has some root mythology in Bavaria I cannot currently remember. The pieces shown had been produced in the years before WWI, which I can imagine were, for Muenter, a kind of idyll.

Later, when I took the subway to Lehnbachhaus, walked around its courtyard, felt entirely absorbed by its rooms and their bright sapphire walls and brilliantly colored paintings, I felt the hopefulness of these painters, their visually recorded joy. There was excitement in the liberation they doubtlessly felt as they made things every day, buffered from the outside world.

Along with Kandinsky and Franz Marc, Muenter founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a name based on a painting by Kandinsky, who for a time based his paintings on legends and folklore and later advanced into full-blown non-objective abstractions. During World War I, Muenter and Kandinsky fled to neutral Switzerland. However, because Kandinsky was still a Russian national, he was forced back to Moscow, without Muenter, to whom he was engaged. While back in Russia, he divorced his cousin, to whom he had been married before moving to Munich and meeting Muenter. And then, almost inexplicably, he promptly remarried, never seeing Muenter again. After the war, Kandinsky again ascended to the ranks of the avant garde when he became a founding member of the Bauhaus School. But Muenter, by comparison, ceased to produce art for a time, until she forged a relationship with Johannes Eichner.

I often wonder about the relationship between Muenter and Kandinsky. Why was it so easily lost? Had it merely reached a natural conclusion? What was its original nature?

I've begun to write about Muenter's life during this period, using her voice. An excerpt appears below:

He did not speak of his wife, except once, when he told me that she was his cousin, and that their union had not been his choice. I believed him. I believed that he was coerced into marrying this faceless woman, about whom I knew nothing, just as he had been forced through expectation into a career in law and economics. He said, “I want you to know it is you that I love. It is you I have chosen, just like I chose to leave my old career to paint.” And I believed this, too. I held it tightly in the fibers of my heart muscle and squeezed it with each beat, in order to be reminded it was there.

And when I laid down yellow-green beside cobalt and I felt my spirits soar with the excitement of that color vibration, I remember laying all that happiness at his door, not congratulating myself for my own artistic evolution.


  1. Your blog article reminds me of the visit I made to Murnau a few years ago to make a film about Kandinsky.You might be interested in the film I produced and directed. "Kandinsky and the Russian House". Filmed in Germany and Russia and using archive footage it touches on some of the points you make in your blog

  2. Thank you so much for this. I will look for the film now--I would love to see it!