Gabriele Münter, born February 19, 1877, in Berlin, was a German painter. Along with Paula Modersohn-Becker, she is considered one of the most important artists of German Expressionism.
Education and early years
Gabriele Helene Henriette Münter was born in Berlin on February 19, as the fourth child of a dentist and a housewife. As a young girl, she witnessed the death of her father. At the age of 20, she commenced drawing studies in Düsseldorf but returned to Koblenz the same year as her mother fell ill and died that winter.
In the years that followed, Gabriele and her sister Emmy Münter took several trips to visit relatives in the United States, during which time Münter’s first photographs were taken with a gifted box camera. After returning to Germany in 1901, Gabriele Münter settled in Munich and enrolled in the newly founded painting school “Phalanx,” where she quickly attended Wassily Kandinsky’s “Evening Act.” A study trip to Kochel followed with this class the next summer, where Münter worked in the countryside for the first time. Here the relationship between Münter and Kandinsky intensified significantly.
Travels with Wassily Kandinsky
In the winter of 1904, Kandinsky and Münter travelled together to Tunis, where they stayed until April of the following year.
They then went to Dresden for a stay of several weeks. Münter spent the fall alone in Dresden. At the end of 1905, a trip to Rapallo followed, where the couple stayed for several months. Stays in Paris and Sévres continued in 1906, and in 1907 six of Münter’s oil paintings were exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, where her work was shown internationally for the first time. The Cologne-based Salon Lenoble presented 64 of her Impressionist paintings in 1908. In the summer of that year, Kandinsky and Münter first travelled through South Tyrol and later discovered the town of Murnau am Staffelsee in the area around Munich. A longer working period with Jawlensky and Werefkin followed in Murnau, with all artists taking up residence in the “Griesbräu” guest house and frequently depicting this in their works.
The Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Munich Artists’ Association) and the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider)
The intensive exchange between the artists circled around Werefkin and Jawlensky led to the founding of the “Neue Künstlervereinigung München” (NKVM) in 1909, of which Münter was one of the founding members. The artist couple again spent the summer in Murnau, where Münter ultimately acquired a house in the Kottmüllerallee. In December, a large exhibition of the NKVM took place at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich, where the artist was represented with a large selection of works. The exhibition traveled through numerous German cities and raises public awareness of the artists’ association.
Two years later, Gabriele Münter, Wassily Kandinsky, Marianne von Werefkin, Alexej von Jawlensky and Franz Marc distanced themselves from the NKVM and jointly founded the exhibition association “Blauer Reiter”.
As Gabriele Münter’s largest solo exhibition to date, Herwarth Walden opened a large retrospective of 84 paintings from 1904 to 1913 in his Berlin gallery “Sturm” in 1913. In a reduced form, this exhibition was later seen in Munich, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Dresden and Stuttgart.
World War I and separation from Kandinsky
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Münter and Kandinsky immediately travelled to Switzerland, where they met other Russian relatives of Kandinsky in exile and stayed for the time being in Mariahelden near Goldach. In November, the couple travelled on to Zurich, from where Kandinsky departed back to his home country, Russia. Gabriele Münter remained in Zurich. In the following spring, she travelled to Sweden in the hope of meeting her companion again. He did not arrive in Stockholm until December of that year. In March 1916 Kandinsky left for Moscow again. The couple’s contact became less and less until it finally broke off completely in 1917. It was not until 1921 when Gabriele Münter learned that Kandinsky had in the meantime married Nina Nikolayevna Andreevskaya.
Return to Germany
Despite a few exhibitions in Scandinavia, the artist failed to achieve commercial success. In 1920, she returned to Germany to her house in Murnau, which in the meantime had been occupied by other people. During this period of loneliness, Münter’s artistic output was greatly reduced. The artist spent the following years in Murnau, Elmau, Berlin and with her relatives.
In 1927, she met Dr. Johannes Eichner at a New Year’s Eve party. The art historian and philosopher lived in Berlin. This enticed Münter to move her temporary residence there. In 1930, the artist traveled to Paris for an extended stay, as she hoped to find new inspiration for her work while there. Eichner visited her in July of that same year. The couple returned to Berlin by the end of the year.
In 1933, Eichner began viewing the collected oeuvre of Gabriele Münter in Murnau. From this, he developed the idea of a comprehensive exhibition, which consequently opened in Bremen in the “Paula Modersohn-Becker-Haus” with the title “Gabriele Münter. 1908–1933” and then traveled for three years through numerous museums and art associations. To be allowed to continue exhibiting under the regime of the National Socialists, she joined the “Reichskammer der bildenden Künste” (Imperial Chamber of Fine Arts). Since her works were not represented in any museum collection, none of her works were defamed or glorified at the “Degenerate Art” or “Great German Art Exhibition” exhibitions in 1937. Nevertheless, her Expressionist painting style was increasingly criticized. With the enactment of the “Gesetz über die Einziehung von Erzeugnissen entarteter Kunst” (Law on the confiscation of products of degenerate art), Münter ensured a safe hiding place for her art collection, which included early works by Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Alfred Kubin, and others. Even after several house searches, it was not found in the cellar of the house in Murnau.
Her first exhibition participation after the World War was initiated in 1949 by Ludwig Grote on behalf of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, who organized the exhibition “Blauer Reiter” at the Haus der Kunst in Munich with Gabriele Münter on the honorary committee. A year later, the Braunschweiger Kunstverein opened the exhibition curated by Johannes Eichner “Gabriele Münter. Works from Five Decades,” which was on display in a total of over 20 German cities. She was also represented at the 25th Venice Biennale in 1950 and at the I. documenta in Kassel in 1955. Finally, she received the public recognition she had longed for as a pioneer of modern art.
In 1957, on the occasion of her 80th birthday, she donated Wassily Kandinsky’s artistic estate, which included more than 90 oil paintings, 330 drawings, watercolors and tempera sheets, 29 sketchbooks, 24 reverse glass paintings and the artist’s almost complete graphic works, to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus. On this very occasion, a major exhibition opened at the Lenbachhaus entitled “Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter. Works from Five Decades,” which presented over 230 works previously unknown to the public. Other anniversary exhibitions took place throughout the year in Germany and internationally.
On February 11, 1958, Johannes Eichner died after a stroke. Thereafter, Münter lived more and more withdrawn in Murnau and worked almost exclusively from earlier models. Gabriele Münter died on May 19, 1962, at her home in Murnau. In her will, she decreed the establishment of the “Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation”, which has since become an important research centre for early 20th-century German art.
Throughout her life, she received the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Art Prize of the City of Munich for painting, and the Golden Medal of Honor of the City of Munich for her life’s work.
1877 – Gabriele Münter is born in Berlin on February 19.
1886 – Death of the father and prolonged absence of the mother.
1897 – Begins drawing studies in Düsseldorf, returns to Koblenz due to mother’s illness.
1898/1900 – Several trips to and within the U.S. to stay with maternal relatives and her sister Emmy. During this time, various drawings and photographs of people and landscapes were made.
1901 – Begins art studies in Munich with Maximilian Dasio and later in Angelo Jank’s act class. In winter, she takes a sculpture course with Wilhelm Hüsgen and the course “Evening Act” with Wassily Kandinsky in the newly founded painting school “Phalanx”.
1902 – First stay in Kochel with Kandinsky’s painting class and work in the open air.
1903 – During a stay in Kallmütz with the painting school “Phalanx” Münter experiments with first palette studies in oil after the free environments. From November, she rents a studio in Munich, where she temporarily works together with Emmy Dresler.
1905/06 – Travels to Tunis with Kandinsky from December 1904 to April 1905, then stays in Dresden. At the end of the year, joint trip of several months to Rapallo. In 1906, stays in Paris and Sévres follow.
1907 – Six of her oil paintings are exhibited for the first time at the Paris “Salon des Indépendants”. After a stay in Bonn, the couple moves to Berlin, where they become acquainted with Rudolf Steiner and his anthroposophical teachings.
1908 – Cologne-based Salon Lenoble exhibits 64 of Münter’s paintings. In the summer, the couple travels through South Tyrol and makes the discovery of Murnau am Staffelsee. A longer working period with Jawlensky and Werefkin follows in Murnau, with the artists staying at the “Griesbräu” inn.
1909 – Founding of the “Neue Künstlervereinigung München” (NKVM), of which Münter is one of the founding members. Another summer stay in Murnau, where Münter buys a house in the Kottmüllerallee. First major exhibition of the NKVM at the Thannhauser Gallery in Munich, where the artist is represented with numerous works.
1911 – Withdrawal of Münter, Kandinsky, Werefkin, Jawlensky, and Marc from the NKVM and founding of the community “Blauer Reiter”.
1913 – Herwarth Walden opens a large retrospective of 84 paintings from 1904 to 1913 in Berlin’s “Sturm” gallery. The exhibition is shown in reduced form in Munich, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Dresden, and Stuttgart.
1914 – With the outbreak of World War I, Kandinsky and Münter immediately leave for Switzerland, from where Kandinsky leaves for Russia.
1915 – Trip to Sweden in the hope of a reunion with her partner Kandinsky. He does not arrive until December. In the meantime, another retrospective in the “Sturm” gallery.
1917 – Contact with Kandinsky breaks off. Only later does Gabriele Münter learn that he has married Nina Andreevskaja that year. Move from Stockholm to Copenhagen.
1918 – The artists’ association “Den Frie Udstilling” organizes an exhibition with 120 works by Münter.
1920/1925 – Return to Germany. Her artistic output is greatly reduced.
1927 – Acquaintance with the philosopher and art historian Dr. Johannes Eichner.
1928 – The relationship with Eichner intensifies, at times Münter lives in Berlin.
1930 – Münter travels to Paris in hopes of finding artistic inspiration. Eichner and Münter spend the summer and fall in France.
1933 – Sighting of Gabriele Münter’s oeuvre in Murnau by Eichner. This is followed by the exhibition “Gabriele Münter. 1908–1933” in the “Paula Modersohn-Becker-Haus” in Bremen. Admission to the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts so that she may continue to exhibit under the rule of the National Socialists.
1936 – Eichner moves to and renovates the house in Murnau, whereupon the house becomes his property.
1937 – Neither in the exhibition “Degenerate Art” nor in the “Great German Art Exhibition” Gabriele Münter is represented, because her works are not represented in any German museum collection. Her work is increasingly criticized by politicians and the public.
1938 – After the enactment of the “Law on the Confiscation of Products of Degenerate Art,” Münter hides her art collection with early works by Kandinsky, Marc, Klee, Kubin and others in her cellar, where it is not found despite several house searches until the end of the war.
1939/1945 – The couple remains in seclusion in Murnau during the Second World War.
1949 – A large “Blauer Reiter” exhibition opens, with Gabriele Münter on the honorary committee. On September 3 the ceremonial opening is held in the Haus der Kunst in the presence of numerous protagonists of the art of classical modernism.
1950 – An exhibition conceived by Eichner, “Gabriele Münter. Works from Five Decades” opens at the Braunschweig Kunstverein and can be seen for several years in a total of 22 cities. 3 of her works are exhibited at the 25th Venice Biennale.
1955 – Gabriele Münter is represented at the I. documenta in Kassel.
1957 – On the occasion of her 80th birthday, she donates Wassily Kandinsky’s artistic estate, which includes more than 90 oil paintings, 330 drawings, watercolours and tempera sheets, 29 sketchbooks, 24 reverse glass paintings and the artist’s almost complete graphic works, to the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus. In conjunction with this, the Lenbachhaus is opening an exhibition “Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter. Works from Five Decades,” which presents over 230 works previously unknown to the public. Further exhibitions take place throughout the year.
1958 – On February 11, Johannes Eichner dies after suffering a stroke. Thereafter, Münter lives more and more withdrawn in Murnau and works increasingly after earlier models.
1962 – On May 19, Gabriele Münter dies at her home in Murnau. In her will, she decrees the establishment of the “Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation,” an important art historical research centre. She is the recipient of the Grand Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Art Prize of the City of Munich for Painting, and the Golden Medal of Honor of the City of Munich.