August Macke
Biography of German Expressionist Painter, Der Blaue Reiter Group.

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Park Restaurant (1912)
Kunstmuseum, Basel.

August Macke (1887-1914)


Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider)
Macke's Style of Expressionist Painting
Developments (1912-13)
Tunisia (1914)

Zoological Garden I (1912)
Lenbachhaus Gallery, Munich.

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Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.


A member of the German Expressionism art movement, the short-lived painter and designer August Macke was one of the founders of Der Blaue Reiter, an avant-garde group of expressionist painters based in Munich. Influenced by modern artists in France as well as Germany, Macke developed an easily recognizable style of expressionism, marked by intense, bright colours and confident draughtsmanship. During a career lasting less than nine years, he managed to produce a wide range of work, across different media and genres. His distinctively serene, almost lyrical compositions encompass numerous examples of landscape painting and portrait art, as well as genre painting. Overall, Macke's harmonious imagery produces a strong sense of calm and order in his art, and his angst-free work has been characterized as "gentle expressionism". He became an important contributor to modern art in Germany, and one of the most innovative of early 20th century painters. He was killed on the Western Front in September 1914, in the first weeks of World War I.

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Born at Meschede, Westphalia, Macke spent most of his childhood in Cologne. He had little interest in schoolwork and preferred to spend his time drawing and sketching. When he was 16 he met a young girl, Elisabeth, whom he eventually married. From 1904 to 1906, he studied at the Dusseldorf Art Academy, but found the teaching methods extremely old-fashioned. Luckily, he discovered a more progressive arts school in the city, whose evening classes were much more stimulating and where he was encouraged to experiment with a number of different painting and printmaking techniques. He also contributed costume and stage designs for the city's theatre. From 1906 he also went on trips to Italy, Holland, and Belgium, paid for by Elisabeth's uncle Bernhard Koehler, a noted art collector. In 1908, these trips culminated in Macke's first visit to Paris, where Koehler introduced him to some of the city's hypermodern art, including vividly coloured Fauvism, the more austere Cubism and the works of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Robert Delaunay. He visited a number of galleries and studios where he met numerous artists in person. It was during this time that he spent six months in Berlin, studying with the celebrated painter Lovis Corinth (1858-1925). In 1909, he married his sweetheart Elisabeth.



Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider)

In 1910, Macke met the German painter Franz Marc (1880-1916) and the two became close friends. In fact his relationship with Marc proved enormously beneficial for his art. In the same year he joined the Neue Kunstlervereinigung (New Artist Federation) in Munich, and in 1911 was a member of the breakaway group which formed Der Blaue Reiter. Led by the Russian emigre Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), its other members were Franz Marc, Paul Klee (1879-1940) and the 'Russian Matisse' - Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941). Numerous other painters participated in Blaue Reiter exhibitions - including the fauvists Andre Derain (1880-1954) and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), Cubists Picasso and Braque (1882-1963), the Russian artists Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962) and Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964), as well as Gabriele Munter (1887-1914) - but it was the five core members who embodied the spirit of the group.

Through Koehler, Macke provided funds for one of the most important contributions to modern art - the publication of the Blue Rider Almanac in 1911 - for which Macke also wrote an article. In addition, he helped to finance the largest European exhibition of avant-garde art ever staged in Germany at that time - the First German Autumn Salon (1913) - at the Sturm Gallery in Berlin, owned by the dealer/collector Herwarth Walden (1879-1941). For more about the contribution of Auguste Macke to the development of expressionism, see: History of Expressionist Painting (c.1880-1930).

Macke's Style of Expressionist Painting

Although an important contributor to the expressionist movement, Macke was not really interested in the theoretical ideas of either Kandinsky or Marc: in particular, his letters show that he had little time for Kandinsky's abstract art. Instead, he developed a personal style of painting that - while borrowing from Cubism - was both figurative and intensely colourful. He considered reflections on metaphysical problems to be a waste of time. The little time that he had was used to satisfy his insatiable curiosity about life. As a result, his main themes were simple, everyday scenes: neither the increased tempo of 20th century urban life nor the tranquility of rustic views held any fascination for him. He painted modern, well-dressed, people in quiet, harmonious, man-made surroundings: in parks, in throughfares, in the zoological gardens, on the banks of rivers, or window-shopping, as well as scenes from the ballet and the circus. In contrast to other expressionist paintings, Macke's pictures contain neither haste, nor tension: instead, they typically depict quiet conversations, or people sitting reading, or watching animals, or ambling, or simply window-shopping. It is not surprising that he was drawn especially toward the zoological gardens in Cologne, where he painted children playing or visitors strolling amongst parrots, flamingos, ostriches and deer. These paintings seem to show a kind of modern paradise within the city, where people can be reunited with nature. Macke's use of colour is more typical of Der Blaue Reiter painting: ranging from intensely vivid (but never strident) to quietly atmospheric. Through his use of colour, he managed to bring out an enticing, exotic quality, even in the most ordinary settings he chose. Thus he surrounds his figures with brightly coloured foliage, violet or turquoise skies, and patches of intense yellow, suggesting strong sunlight. His women wear hats adorned with extravagant feathers, making urban and suburban life look lush and exotic.

Artistic Developments (1912-13)

In 1912 Macke went to Paris and met Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), whose "Orphism" he much admired. It stimulated him to produce a number of Orphist-style abstract paintings, with interlocking forms and colours, such as: Coloured Composition (Homage to Johann Sebastian Bach (1912, Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen), Coloured Form I (1913, State Art & Culture Museum, Munster) and Coloured Form II (1913, Wilhelm-Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen). Delaunay's influence extended also to Macke's figurative compositions - in which the Frenchman's "orphic" colours are sometimes visible - but Macke's colour pigments remain typically stronger and richer. In 1913 Macke participated in two important exhibitions of fine art: the exhibit of Rhenish Expressionists in Bonn, and the First German Fall Salon in Berlin. In the same year, his second son was born, and the family moved to a picturesque lakeside house in Switzerland.

Tunisia (1914)

In the spring of 1914, he went farther afield in search of more exotic, colourful subject-matter. Together with Paul Klee and a Swiss friend, the painter Louis Moilliet, he travelled to Tunisia. All three were greatly inspired by the strong light and colourful surroundings of North Africa, and spent every day in the hot sun, sketching the mountains, palms, camels and whitewashed villages they saw. Macke was especially interested in the local people: he drew and painted the Arab merchants selling their wares in the streets and souks, busy harbour life and men relaxing in cafes. In little more than a fortnight he made hundreds of sketches, and later turned them into some of his best oil painting. But the vivid watercolour painting he did on this trip ranks as perhaps his greatest artistic achievement.

A few months later, the First World War began. Macke was conscripted into the army in early August, only to be killed in action a few weeks later, aged 27. He was mourned by all who knew him, especially by his close friend Franz Marc, who was to suffer the same fate himself two years later.


During his tragically short career, August Macke developed a signature style of painting - in effect, a mix of Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism - whose harmonious colours and serene imagery formed a counterbalance to the more angular art and strident impact of the Die Brucke group in Dresden and Berlin - see, especially, works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976). Paintings by Macke can be found in some of the best art museums in Europe, as well as provincial galleries across Germany.

His best landscapes include the vivid Vegetable Field (1911, State Art Museum, Bonn), the verdant Garden View (1911, Westdeutsche Landesbank, Dusseldorf), the urban St Mary's Church in the Snow (1911, Kunsthalle, Hamburg), the vibrant Red House in the Park (1914, State Art Museum, Bonn) and the exotic Turkish Cafe I (1914, Bonn). Among his greatest portrait paintings are Artist's Wife with Hat (1909, State Art & Culture Museum, Munster), Self-Portrait with Hat (1909, Bonn), Nude with Coral Necklace (1910, Sprengel Museum, Hannover), and Portrait of Franz Marc (1910, Nationalgalerie, Berlin). His best genre paintings include: Garden Restaurant (1912, Kunstmuseum, Basel), Zoological Garden I (1912, Lenbachhaus State Gallery, Munich), Hat-Shop (1914, Folkwang Museum, Essen), Freiburg Cathedral, Switzerland (1914, Nordrhein-Westfalen Art Collection, Dusseldorf), Man Reading in Park (1914, Ludwig Museum, Cologne).

In addition to his oils and watercolours, Macke produced a number of woodcarvings and items of pottery, as well as prints (mainly woodcuts and linocuts - see, for instance, Three Nudes [1913] and The Farewell [1913]), and designs for carpets, embroideries, tapestries, and wall-hangings.

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