An unnecessary complement to Kandinsky, the main savior of expressionist works and talented in her own right, this is the story of Gabriele Münter.
“In the eyes of many, I was only an unnecessary adjunct to Kandinsky. It is too easily forgotten that a woman can be a creative artist in her own right with real and original talent. A woman alone [...] can never gain recognition through her own efforts. Other ‘authorities’ have to stand up for her.” Gabriele Münter, October 27, 1926.
This is an excerpt from a diary entry by Gabriele Münter, a painter who is better known for having been Kandinsky’s partner than for her pictorial work. However, to Münter we owe the preservation of the works of the Der Blaue Reiter movement, in which some of the most renowned German Expressionist artists participated, including her.
Münter’s foray into painting came from her affluent position, which allowed her parents to afford private lessons at a time when women could not enter art schools and obtain a formal education. In turn, it came from an innate talent that, during her childhood and adolescence, gradually guided her. After trying different teachers, who saw her style as too simplistic, Münter enrolled in the Phalanx, an art school that was directed by Wassily Kandinsky and that ended up sealing her destiny as a painter.
There Kandinsky took her as a disciple, and soon after, around 1902, they would become a couple. All at the same time that both continued to paint and develop the abstract style that characterized them and, of course, for which Kandinsky would later be recognized, and Münter forgot.
What led Münter to develop her style was a visit to Paris, where she could appreciate the paintings of Matisse, particularly those of his Fauvist period. The Frenchman soon became a great influence, which contributed to Münter’s portraits and landscapes approaching the abstract. In the same way, it is possible to find similar strokes to those of Matisse, but which stand out for the use of thick and strong black lines that delimit the edges of his subjects.
However, her artistic output was curtailed during WWII, when she was forbidden to exhibit her works, resulting in another of her most important roles in art history. Whether out of mere foresight or a hunch about what would happen to art in Germany, Münter hid up to 80 paintings from the group Der Blaue Reiter.
When it was all over, Münter not only resumed her painting but all the works she had kept -some of which she managed to keep in exchange for the moral damages Kandinsky caused her after he had not formalized their engagement and married another woman- were donated to the city of Munich, which allowed this part of the story to be preserved and her own work to be exhibited to this day in some of the most important museums and art galleries of her native country.
However, although Münter is still exhibited in German art spaces, the truth is that her impact and transcendence have been minor, always in the shadow of her master and former fiancé. Gender bias has prevailed in all artistic expressions, be it painting or writing, women have been relegated and hidden by their male counterparts. In the same way, curatorial decisions of both museums and collectors have omitted women from their selections, thus achieving -either inadvertently or knowingly- that all women artists who contributed to certain aesthetic currents are erased from history or, like Münter, relegated to the role of romantic partners and nothing more.
Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva