31 Aug

August Macke? Dead long time ago. He’s left paintings, some drawings. A few monographs came out. Some books have been written. Do the art tourist thing in Germany. See some August Macke.

In the annals 20th Century Art History he’s B-list significant. (See German Expressionism). He was born at the dawn of Modernism, 1887. When he was 23 he met Franz Marc and together with Vassily Kandinsky (and others who rate on the C-list or below) he formed Der Blaue Reiter – The Blue Rider.

This was the second of the two groups who together made Germany’s contribution to Modernism. Artists had long expressed the view that the emotional content of their work was in the colour. But the Expressionists were the first unabashed emotional egotists. Like Die Brücke (The Bridge) the artists of The Blue Rider had seen the Impressionists and decided that the classical style was dead. Like them they’d seen Cezanne and plugged into a different view of Beauty and Truth.

A ‘Blue Rider’ evokes at once intense colour and this forward movement. Their work was, however, more refined, less confrontantional then that of their earlier counter-parts. Kandinsky and Marc were the leaders. And Kandinsky is the only true capital ‘G’ genius of the crew. But, for this period, Macke’s my favourite.

During the preceding century the Romantics, the Impressionists and the Symbolists had pried the urge to express the music of the soul in colour away from Academic rigidity. Van Gogh, Gaugin and Cezanne had thrown a plague of molotov cocktails its way. And in Germany, in Spain, in France, Russia, Italy and Beligium there was pandamonium.

Expressionist pandamoium indulged in colour, convinced that true art was child-like. Not surprisingly they rejected naturalistic depiction and any obligation to the world as it’s commonly seen, turning instead inward. What made Macke different is that he refused to go as far as that, he never turned away from what the Old Masters had called ‘Nature’.

The year he met Fraz Marc he painted this:

August Macke 1

Farmboy at Tegernsee, 1910

The style is that of all the young artists of this generation who were doing as the proto-modernists did. It reminds me a little of Picasso’s blue period. And also of Courbet. Macke’s farmboy has a farmboy’s dignity. He’s ‘uneasy in front of the camera’. His hands are solid, meaty.

By the following year The Blue Rider had formed. Picasso and Braque had already wrenched apart any resemblence to the classical tradition. Macke radically broke away from the past.

Auguist Macke 2

He was still not yet 25.

Who knows how this young man would have developed thru the 1920s as the modern style began to attract larger markets and more attention. Whereas his contemporaries moved toward abstaction inevitably as the pure expression of the self, the psyche, he never lost the habit of observation:

Augist MAcke 3

The Milliner’s Shop, 1913

Painting is one of those arts where the best get better as they age. Hokusai wrote that none of the drawings he did before his 70th birthday were worth considering. And he had a point. Macke painted the above in a few short years. Such confidence, so young. What could have been?

A year after The Milliner’s Shop he was drafted into the German Army. The artists of the Western World had called for the destruction of the old world. Sub-consciously the empires that protected them agreed. As if by compulsion, they committed group suicide. The trenches were dug and August was posted to the French province of Champagne. A few weeks later he was dead, killed in action. Mowed down alongside two hundred-thousand anonymous others. He was 27 years old.

His last work, the gloom of which brings Kirchner to mind, was called “Farewell”.



  1. ved July 6, 2016 at 11:21 pm #

    he was an astonishing talent indeed !!!!!!

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