Gabriele Münter is known by her relationship with Kandinsky, in whose shadow she lived for almost fifteen years (in part for lack of self-confidence, but mostly due to the understanding of the female’s role prevailing at that time). However, she was one of the few women who played an important part in the development of German Expressionism. She was actively involved in various Munich art movements, such as Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) of which she was a founding member. Münter was considered one of the greatest female artists of the German Modern movement after 1900, alongside Paula Modersohn-Becker.
Münter was born in Berlin to upper-middle-class Protestant parents. She raised in a family and a country that discouraged women from a career in the arts, however she began her art studies at the Malschule für Damen (the Düsseldorf school for women) in 1897; then at the Phalanx school in 1901 (where Kandinsky was her teacher), there she studied sculpture and woodcut techniques. After taking part in the exhibitions of the Neue Künstlervereinigung in Munich (1909-1910) she left the association with Kandinsky and Franz Marc to participate in the exhibitions of Der Blaue Reiter.
In 1902 she began a professional and personal 12-year relationship with Wassily Kandinsky. With him she visited Tunisia, Belgium, Italy and Austria. They settled in Munich in 1908 and one year later they moved to the house Münter bought in Murnau with the money she inherited. In Murnau, they and their friends Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne Werefkin met during the following summers (the house was a meeting point for the avant-garde of art).
In 1914, when the WW1 broke out, they moved to Switzerland, but due to Kandinsky’s Russian nationality, he was considered an enemy alien, and returned to Moscow the same year. Münter moved alone to Copenhagen, she spent few years in Scandinavia waiting for him on neutral territory and did not return to Germany until 1920.
Shortly after moving to Moscow he obtained a long-sought divorce from his first wife, but he wrote a letter to Münter to tell that he was living alone and preferred it that way. She sought in vain to reignite their relationship, and, in 1915, they met for one final time in Stockholm. Later, she discovered that he had married another woman instead of her.
When she returned to Germany in 1920, received a letter in which Kandinsky requested the return of his things, including nearly all of his pre-war work. Münter sued, demanding compensation for the shame brought on her. When the case was settled in 1926, much was returned to him, but Münter retained almost 1000 of his works.
Murnau was the place where her art evolved towards a simplification of form. She was influenced by the experiments of her colleagues and also by the discovery of the painting on glass typical from this part of Bavaria (Hinterglasmalerei). The essence of this art showed a new path to a poignant image statement. Murnau was also the place where she developed her art skills and replaced the detailed palette knife technique with generous brushwork, as in her scenes of Murnau.
During the war she lived an artistic period of relative inactivity, but once the war was over, she returned to Murnau, where she lived from then onwards. She worked in the highly stylized manner which emphasized the simplicity of forms and the expressive use of line and colour.
She met the philosopher and art historian Johannes Eichner in the New Year’s Eve of 1928; they became close friends. Eichner was one of her supporters in this new phase of her artistic work.
In 1930s, Murnau was heavily National Socialist dominion (almost half of its population voting for Hitler). From this time is her unsettling painting Procession in Murnau of 1934 which depicts the feast of Corpus Christi with the Nazi flags hanging from all the windows. Some of her friends, advised her to paint less expressionistically, because she could attract trouble for herself.
She was not defamed as a degenerate artist, as many of her contemporaries, probably because the Nazis primarily selected artists from the national collections and she was not included in any of them.
Gabriele Münter died in 1962 in Murnau.
• Many of her paintings are in the Schlossmuseum Murnau, in the Münter House and in the Lenbachhaus municipal museum in Munich.
• With the resurgence of interest in German Expressionism after the WW2 her importance began to be recognized. She was honored as an independent representative of German Expressionism for which she has fought all her life.
• Two of her paintings were included in Hitler’s 1937 Salon (The Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung).