Gabriele Münter. Interior (Das Interieur). 1908. Oil on board, 20 1/8 x 26 1/4" (51.0 x 66.4 cm). Gift of the Glickstein Foundation

“I kept the memory for myself.”

Gabriele Münter

In 1957, shortly before she turned 80, Gabriele Münter recalled painting a landscape half a century earlier. In 1908, while in the countryside of southern Germany, Münter came across an evening sight that caught her eye: a road and an inn backed by blue mountains and red clouds. “I quickly sketched the picture that presented itself to me,” she wrote. “Then it was like I woke up & had the sensation as if I were a bird that had sung its song. I didn’t tell anyone about this sensation, I am not a very talkative person anyway. But I kept the memory for myself.”1

Sensation was vital to Münter, whose artistic career spanned multiple decades and mediums. She began to study drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and painting as a young woman in Munich, where she met Vasily Kandinsky, a teacher who nurtured her art. Working alongside one another in the early years of the 20th century, Münter and Kandinsky sought to express and provoke sensation through the arrangement of lines, forms, and colors on paper and canvas. For Münter, a 1908 excursion to Murnau, a small town south of Munich, proved revelatory. Located near the base of the Bavarian Alps, Murnau—its lake and mountains, market and squares, architecture and folk arts—captivated Münter. “After a short period of agony I took a great leap forward,” she wrote of her initial visit, “from copying nature—in a more or less Impressionist style—to feeling the content of things—abstracting—conveying an extract.”2

Münter presents an “extract” of a nighttime scene in Interior, completed the same year. In the foreground is a table topped with ordinary objects—a glass, a book, a fruit, a vase with flowers, a bird-shaped figurine that likely belonged to her sizeable collection3 of Bavarian folk art—that Münter made to look extraordinary using vibrant hues and vigorous brushwork. And in the background is a garden reduced to its most elemental components: a lawn, a sky, a tree, and a single flower, each rendered with broad strokes of pure color. Münter was no longer “copying from nature”; rather, she was “feeling the content of things” and “abstracting” this “content” for viewers.

Yet Münter’s approach to “abstracting” differentiated her from other members of an artists’ association in which she participated, Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider). Founded in Munich in 1911 and led by Kandinsky and Franz Marc, Der Blaue Reiter attracted artists who believed that art, first and foremost, should embody artists’ individual mental, emotional, and spiritual truths. Typically, this involved a turn away from recognizable subject matter. Though Münter contributed actively to Der Blaue Reiter—she assisted with the organization of their group exhibitions in 1911 and 1912—engagement with real-world people, places, and things remained essential to her subject matter and working methods. Indeed, Münter strove to communicate what she termed the “inner life”4 of her friends and neighbors, her house and garden, her possessions and surroundings. In her view, even a painting such as Interior must contain “inner life”—both that of the objects portrayed and that of the artist who portrayed them.

The same was true of portraits. While Kandinsky and other Blaue Reiter artists largely abandoned the human figure in their pursuit of abstraction, Münter enjoyed the challenge of picturing faces and bodies.5 How to convey another person’s outer appearance and inner experience while simultaneously capturing her own encounter with this person and producing a compelling work of art? “I have often attempted to do portraits,“ she wrote late in life, “but I must confess that not many likenesses have been really successful. Sometimes a good picture results, but not an accurate portrait; sometimes a genuine portrait but not a suitable picture.”6 Woman in Thought II is one of Münter’s many attempts to create a “good picture” and an “accurate portrait,” in which two women—artist and sitter—are shown thinking in paint on canvas.

Annemarie Iker, independent scholar, 2022

  1. Gabriele Münter quoted in Annegret Hobert, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter: Letters and Reminiscences 1902–1914 (Munich and New York: Prestel, 1994), 54.

  2. Münter quoted in Hobert, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter, 45-46.

  3. On Münter’s collection of Bavarian folk art and its importance to her work, see “Primitivism: Searching for the roots of creativity,” in Isabelle Jansen, Gabriele Münter, 1877–1962. Painting to the Point (Munich/London/New York: Lenbachhaus/Prestel, 2017) 135-181.

  4. Münter quoted in Hobert, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter, 88.

  5. See Shulamith Behr, “Beyond the Muse: Gabriele Münter as Expressionistin,” in Gabriele Münter: The Search for Expression 1906–1917, ed. Barnaby Wright (London: Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2005), 43-71.

  6. Münter quoted in Anne Mochon, Gabriele Münter: Between Munich and Murnau (Cambridge, MA: Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, 1980), 34.

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