Musée de l’Orangerie always puts on painters of original talent. After Paula Rego this winter, Cécile Debray, director of the museum, has curated a beautiful exhibition, “The adventure of the Blue Rider”, with two German painters on display, Franz Marc and August Macke, who were both killed in the first years of the first World War.
At 36 and 27, they hardly had time to prove their genius.
Key artists of the German expressionist movement, “Der Blaue Reiter“, Macke and Marc started painting as post-impressionists and were fascinated by nature, landscapes and animals. In 1912, the first two exhibitions of “The Blue Rider” took place in Munich and included Picasso, Derain, Klee and Rousseau. In the spring of 1914, Macke travelled to Tunisia with Klee, painting in Kairouan. Klee’s painting of Kairouan features in the Orientalist exhibition at Marmottan and this trip marks the beginning of his abstract paintings which were to be interrupted by the war.
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August Macke and Franz Marc met in 1910. Macke was trained in Düsseldorf and was very impressed by Japonism and Art Nouveau while Marc studied in Munich and had trained in religion and philosophy. When he published “Der Blaue Reiter Almanach” with Kandinsky, he gives a large space to Douanier Rousseau whose simplicity he admires. Indeed, one of Macke’s paintings in the show, “Church St Mary of Bonn with houses and a chimney” is reminiscent of “Promeneurs dans un parc” by Henri Rousseau.
“The name Blaue Reiter was found while drinking coffee. We both liked blue, Marc liked horses and I like riders” wrote Kandinsky. The project was aimed at fighting old-fashioned art. The Almanach, of which there is an example in the show, is entirely written and illustrated by artists. It includes a wide variety of styles from Easter Island statues to children’s drawings and it promotes the European avant-garde.
In 1913, Franz Marc paints a terrifying and prescient, almost abstract work, “the Wolves (Balkan war)”, where charming animals turn to aggression. Macke died in September 1914, a month after joining the front and Marc died near Verdun in 1916. The terrible irony is that they were both francophiles.