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The Blue Rider in the Lenbachhaus, Munich
The Blaue Reiter Almanac
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In 1911 an unsuccessful landscape painter, supported by 140 other artists, published a pamphlet called A Protest by German Artists. It stated:
In view of the great invasion of French art, which for the past few years occurred in the so-called progressive art centers of Germany, it seems to me a necessity for German artists to raise a warning without being deterred by the objection that their only motivation is envy.… Let us repeat it again and again: a people can be raised to the very heights only through artists of its own flesh and blood.
It was a not unfamiliar cry: throughout the nineteenth century German writers had repeated the message summed up in Hans Sachs’s address at the end of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg calling for German art to be kept pure and free from Gaulish frivolity and corruption (Welschen Dunst mit welschem Tand). It had been promulgated again by Julius Langbehn in his best seller of 1890, Rembrandt als Erzieher (“Rembrandt as Educator”), and by Houston Stuart Chamberlain in his equally popular (especially with Kaiser Wilhelm II) Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (“Foundations of the Nineteenth Century”), published in 1899, which saw the history of German art as “a struggle between our innate tendencies and those foreign ones forced on us.” And for that matter, to judge by Ian Buruma’s discussion of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg in The New York Review of December 20, 1990, these are ideas that are still found today.
At the beginning of the twentieth century this was a mood that had been encouraged by the rapid introduction of new styles in painting, sculpture, and the applied arts that had accompanied each of the recent splits in the German art world, with one “Secession” leading to another, and with the “advanced” artists of one decade often becoming the reactionaries of the next. Throughout the nineteenth century—especially of course in France—artists had been rebelling against the established academies and official salons and had looked for new ways of showing their work in rival “Salons des Refusés.”
In Germany by the end of the century the situation had become particularly dramatic. This was partly because Germany’s increasing economic strength and rapid urbanization had caused many social and political tensions and raised questions about Germany’s mission in the world and German national identity so that many people were asking, “What is German?”
In the art world the question arose especially from the fact that, as Robin Lenman has pointed out in a recent article, state and municipal patronage of the arts in Germany was on a particularly large scale, so that the relation of art to the state became of central importance for artists trying to make a living. Those artists who were not included, or who thought themselves inadequately represented in the large official exhibitions held in the major German cities, had economic as well as aesthetic reasons for creating new outlets for their work. As the painter …
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Lulu May 30, 1991