The conservatism of certain members of the NKVM led to the resignation of Kandinsky, Münter, Marc and Kubin in 1911. At the instigation of Kandinsky and Marc, the four organized the first exhibition of the editorial board of Blaue Reiter, held from 8 December 1911 to 1 January 1912 in the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich. According to Kandinsky in 1930 (‘Der blaue Reiter Rückblick’, Das Kunstblatt, 14), the name of the Blaue Reiter had come up spontaneously in coffee-table talk with Franz and Maria Marc: ‘We both liked blue, Marc liked horse and I liked rider’. However, this explanation seems too trivial to be exhaustive. From all Kandinsky’s written statements it can be seen with hindsight that the claims attached to the name were considerable. It was linked to diverse traditions rooted in German history, and associated the masculine virtues of medieval knights and Christian warrior saints, including those of Russian Orthodox Christianity, with the group’s romantic idea that the essence of things can be revealed to mankind through works of art. The horse was used as a subject by Franz Marc in many works, for example Little Blue Horse (1912)Blue Horse 1 (1911; Munich, Lenbachhaus)-->, and in Kandinsky’s woodcut of St George for the cover of the almanac Blaue Reiter of 1912.
Kandinsky prefaced the catalogue list of the group’s first show with the following text: ‘In this small exhibition we do not seek to propagate a precise or special form, but aim to show in the diversity of the forms represented how the inner desire of artists shapes itself in manifold ways’. In keeping with this stance, the exhibition presented a heterogeneous picture. It contained 43 works by 14 artists, including Marc, Kandinsky, David Burlyuk, Vladimir Burlyuk, Robert Delaunay and the recently dead Henri Rousseau. At Marc’s request August Macke, Heinrich Campendonk and Jean Bloé Niestlé (1884–1942) took part, while at Kandinsky’s instigation his companion Gabriele Münter and his former pupil Elisabeth Epstein (1879–1956) showed works. Albert Bloch (1882–1961) was also invited by Kandinsky, while two works by his dead friend Eugen von Kahler (1882–1911) and, finally, pictorial visions by the composer Arnold Schoenberg were displayed.
The pluralism proclaimed at this exhibition attracted unexpectedly strong support from artists. Some, such as Hans Arp, who visited Munich in 1912, and Paul Klee, developed strong personal contacts with the group. Many others contributed to a second exhibition, devoted exclusively to graphic works. This show of 315 works by 31 artists was held from February to April 1912 in the art showroom of Hans Goltz (1873–1927). The best-known names included Klee, Kubin, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, as well as Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel of Die Brücke. Klee, in particular, shared the concern of his Blaue Reiter colleagues for the spiritual in art, emphasizing the qualities of popular and primitive art, as well as that produced by the mentally ill and children.
Among the public and critics the two exhibitions produced an almost entirely negative response. As with the earlier exhibitions of the NKVM, people felt they were being mocked and confused. Where new forms of expression appropriate to new subject-matter were being revealed, the public and critics saw only incompetence and the scurrilous outpourings of sick minds. Despite this opposition, the exhibition went on tour, first to the Gereonsclub in Cologne, and in March 1912 Herwarth Walden opened his Sturm-Galerie in Berlin with this collection. Exhibitions in Bremen, Hagen and Frankfurt am Main followed. Somewhat later a different selection of the works was to be seen at the exhibition of the Sonderbund in Cologne in 1912, and the following year, again in Berlin, they appeared in Herwarth Walden’s Ersten Deutschen Herbstsalon, and even, on his initiative, in Sweden in 1914.
© 2009 Oxford University Press