Not many have heard of Gabriele Munter, though most will probably have heard of her more famous partner Wassily Kandinsky who wrote extensively about colour theory and is often thought to be the founder of abstraction.
The two of them lived together in a house which she purchased in a small town called Murnau in the Bavarian Alps. It is now called ‘The Munter House’ and is a Museum open to the public. At the time it was known as ‘The Russians’ House’ by the locals as Kandinsky was Russian, as were Alexej Jawlensky and his partner Marianne von Werefkin who used to stay there for long periods to paint and discuss art. Munter was German. All of them practised in an Expressionist idiom using radical, unexpected and subjective colour to express mood and emotion in a move away from Impressionism with its emphasis on the senses and naturalism. (The Expressionists believed Impressionism lacked soul). Yet each of them developed their own distinctive style.
Munters’ work, with its strong outlines and pure colours, was heavily influenced by the glass painting she encountered in the region. She began painting on glass herself and encouraged Kandinsky to do the same. They were also both influenced by folk art with its simple, joyful bold patterns. Much of the furniture in The Munter House is decorated in this ‘naive’ style. There were also several religious paintings in the house – mostly icons. Though Expressionism broke away from the sophistication of Academic art, it looked back to native local traditions, which included religious art. The unspoilt countryside was also an inspiration.Many of Munters’ works are landscapes. At times they, like Kandinskys’, border on the abstract. She seems to have worked directly from the heart and was perhaps not so restricted by artistic theory as her lover.
Unfortunately Kandinsky was forced to flee upon the outbreak of WW1. Munter left with him for Zurich. Kandisnky then returned to his native Russia. Munter believed he would return to her after the War (it was the general belief it would be quickly over) – but he didn’t. She took many years to recover and return to the house with her new partner in the 1920s.