February 2024

Gabriele M√ľnter:
Post-Break Up With Kandinsky

 Jelena Hahl-Fontaine
Edited byLissa Tyler Renaud

The more dramatic a relationship, the greater the temptation to write about it—even novels, which sometimes falsify more than they reveal. Gabriele M√ľnter (1877-1962), Kandinsky's student and life partner until 1914 is now finally recognized as a remarkable painter. During the work on my new edition of Kandinsky's letters, I found some rare documents on M√ľnter as well. So I'd like to share a more positive picture of her than Kandinsky's letters do.

 

While his letters have survived quite well (about 1000 handwritten pages), not many of M√ľnter's have. Their correspondence shows that they lived together mainly when travelling. And that from 1909 on, after the purchase of a country house in Murnau, they most often took turns: one stayed in Munich, the other one in Murnau.

 

The most difficult episode of their life together is well known: the months they spent in Paris/S√®vres in 1907. It has also been widely noted that Kandinsky did not fulfill his promise to marry M√ľnter. They met for the last time in Stockholm in 1915, where they became friends with psychiatrist Dr. Poul Bjerre—and this, too, has been documented (by Vivian Barnett: Kandinsky and Sweden, Malm√∂ 1989). But beyond what is already known, there exists a late, revealing letter, of four handwritten pages, by M√ľnter.

 

 

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ltrIMG_1cr-

Gabriele M√ľnter in Marshall, Texas, USA, 1899–1900. 
© Gabriele M√ľnter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich.

 

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Gabriele M√ľnter, Dresden 1905, photograph: Wassily Kandinsky. 
© Gabriele M√ľnter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich.

 

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Gabriele M√ľnter, 1952, photograph, photographer: Sigrid B√ľhring
© Schlossmuseum Murnau, picture archive.

 

            Murnau, April 7, 1949

Dear Dr. Bjerre!        
                       

{...} We have not heard from each other for so many years. So allow me to send you a sign of life.

           

If I think about it now, I made a big mistake to lose contact with you during the last part of my stay in Sweden; and then just to leave quietly. You certainly know my reason: that Kandinsky, when leaving Sweden, had not come back to me, as he had promised. I was quite upset about the end of our 13-year cohabitation; it at least merited an honorable resolution. — Perhaps your professional knowledge and perspicacity would have helped us to grasp and clear out the complications of our
lives. The breakup, and the way it was done, were difficult for me to bear and to understand. I then withdrew into myself and suffered loneliness for a long time. Also my artistic work wilted. It took me years to recover. In 1920, I finally decided to leave Scandinavia (I had been in Denmark since 1917) and to go back to Germany. — My memories of K. are divided between my admiration for him as a great artist and the disappointment about the manner of his escape from our engagement; he had said, until the very end, that it was stronger than any legal formality. — Only since 1931, after a long, aimless, wandering life, have I returned to the small rural house in Murnau, which I had bought at Kandinsky's wish "for our old age." Since then my life and my artistic work have become firm and meaningful again. Here I spent the period of dictatorship, with some danger and difficulty. From the war I was spared. So I am living and working in my home, in good health and with no disturbance. The philosopher and art critic, Dr. Johannes Eichner, whom I have known for more than 20 years, lives here with me and helps me with my affairs. Right now, a traveling exhibition is being prepared, which will give an overview of my whole life's work. It should already have taken place 2 years ago for my 70th birthday.

            Now, after the destructive art politics of the dictatorship, the interest in modern art is increasing again, and one looks back to the beginnings, in which I, too, took part. A large, historic exhibition was planned in the municipal gallery in Munich for the "New Artists' Association" and the "Blue Rider";  I would have played an important part, having shown 14 paintings between 1908 and 1914. But, to my regret , financial difficulties and other obstacles were in the way. I would have been included in such a very important show, which was supposed to go on to other places, as well as to foreign countries. — I'm enclosing a small souvenir of the founding of our Association in 1909.

            Our time is now devoted to memories. I am sorting old letters, which bring the old times to life in my mind. Many old relationships are lost, many questions come up. What could have happened to Lucie and Erich Gutkind (Volker), by whose mediation I found my way to you? I hope very much that they were able to flee in time from the catastrophe in Germany! I also found letters from Mitrinovich, whose World-Union -League (Weltliga) won you over, too, through Gutkind. How different the world would look if spiritual people, reason and kindness had been leaders of the people! As we learned in Sweden, Mitrinovich had luckily found a safe haven in England in 1914. After that I did not hear from him anymore.

            I would be happy to learn through you about our good old friends and especially about yourself, you lucky one. 
 

With cordial greetings, 

 

Gabriele M√ľnter

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We see here that M√ľnter was aware her work had flagged for many years. In Sweden this was not yet the case; Kandinsky had remarked in May of 1916: Your pictures have turned more serious, deeper, steadier. I find more individuality and a very personal trait in them, and this will make you immortal.

 

The last part of her late letter is especially revealing, where she asks about their common friends, Gutkind and Mitrinovich, the founders of a utopian society, involving other idealistic notables, to create a new, peaceful Europe. Well, this was in 1914, shortly before WWI annihilated their well -meaning projects. There is plenty of literature, mainly about the Serbian Mitrinovich, where Neville Chamberlain is mentioned as a potential member. But Gutkind, in a hardly known letter of July 12, 1914 to Mitrinovich, spoke of his hesitations about the British politician: I cannot find that his point of view is "all-European." He rejects, in an almost violent way, the Jewish as well as the Roman Europe, which are in fact absolutely indispensable factors.

 

It is good to hear such a voice from Berlin. The same is true of M√ľnter's statement against the Nazi dictatorship; after all, one was astonished by her participation with two small pictures in 1936 in the traveling exhibitions, "Adolf Hitler's Streets in Art." But the initiative for her participation came more from her friend, Johannes Eichner, than from her. He was the only one besides Kandinsky who tried to influence the style of her art. Fortunately she only listened for a short time to Eichner's suggestions. Still in May of 1955, he asked Bjerre to send him photos of one of Kandinsky's rare figurative watercolors of 1916, a gift of the artist. He also mentioned then that M√ľnter had painted 100 pictures in one year, proof of her regained creativity.

 

 

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More M√ľnter Resources

 

Brief video (1:32) on Gabriele M√ľnter. With fantastic photos! (In French)
https://twitter.com/ARTEfr/status/1693518300582756682

Informative article on M√ľnter, with lesser known photos of her and her work.
https://www.tretyakovgallerymagazine.com/articles/1-2022-74/gabriele -munter-not-just-lady-painter-dozen

 

 



Jelena Hahl-Fontaine , formerly Hahl-Koch (PhD, Art History and Slavic Studies, Heidelberg) is one of the world's leading Kandinsky scholars, her professional life having centered on Kandinsky for over 60 years. She was Curator of the Kandinsky archive at Lenbachhaus, Munich, the primary Kandinsky repository. Publications include a major monograph, Kandinsky; the Arnold Schoenberg-Kandinsky letters; Kandinsky Forum vols. I-IV; Kandinsky: A Life in Letters 1889-1944; and many writings on A. Jawlensky, A. Sacharoff, V. Bekhtejeff, the Russian avant-garde, and more. Taught at the Universities of Erlangen, Bern; Austin, Texas; and Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Has lectured widely at prestigious venues of Europe, America and Australia.
For her other articles, check the Archives.

Curator, writer and editor, Kandinsky Anew Series
Lissa Tyler Renaud MFA Directing, PhD Dramatic Art with Art History (thesis on Kandinsky's theatre), summa cum laude, UC Berkeley (1987). Lifelong actress, director. Founder, Oakland-based Actors' Training Project (1985- ) for training inspired by Kandinsky's teachings. Book publications: The Politics of American Actor Training (Routledge); an invited chapter in the Routledge Companion to Stanislavsky, and ed. Selected Plays of Stan Lai (U. Michigan Press, 3 vols.). She has taught, lectured and published widely on Kandinsky, acting, dramatic theory and the early European avant-garde, throughout the U.S., and since 2004, at major theatre institutions of Asia, and in England, Mexico, Russia and Sweden.
She is a senior writer for Scene4
For her other commentary and articles, check the Archives.

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©2024 Lissa Tyler Renaud
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine

 

 

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