Customize your JAMA Network experience by selecting one or more topics from the list below.
I should like once again to remind you please to obtain the necessary papers for the marriage. . . . If we can't have a room together there and I have to travel as a Miss and worry about the police because of the registration, then in the end I’d rather do without. . . . I just want to be together with you.—Münter to Kandinsky, August 23 and 25, 19131(p151,152)
German expressionist Gabriele Münter (1877-1962) began her love affair with Vasily Kandinsky in 1902 shortly after enrolling in his evening life classes with nude models at the Phalanx School. She had chosen the Phalanx because of her unhappiness with traditional art instruction.1 “There then,” she said, “I had a new artistic experience, how—unlike other teachers—Kandinsky explained things in detail, clearly, and treated me as though I were a consciously striving person who can set herself problems and goals.”2(p12) Soon after they met, the married Kandinsky found himself romantically attracted to her.3 In 1903, they were secretly engaged. Kandinsky and his wife formally separated in 1904, and he initiated protracted divorce proceedings through the orthodox church in Russia; the divorce was not finalized until 1911.
Gabriele Münter (1877-1962), German. Cover image: Reflecting(Sinnende), 1917. Oil on canvas, 66 × 95 cm. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (http://www.lenbachhaus.de), Munich, Germany. © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Because Munich social convention restricted their time together, Kandinsky decided that the only way he and Münter could live together would be to travel, and they did so throughout Europe and North Africa from 1904 to 1908. Eventually returning to Germany, Münter purchased a house in Murnau in 1909. Boating (Figure) illustrates a happy summer outing on Lake Staffel near Murnau. Kandinsky, framed by blue mountains, stands in the stern of a boat looking down and dominating those seated. A Russian artist friend, wearing a red hat and powder-blue dress, sits next to a child and a dog—all seemingly content on a serene lake with a purple sky. Münter, her back to the viewer, is rowing and gives stability to the boat just as she provided stability to Kandinsky's life, keeping a photographic record of the progress of his work.
Gabriele Münter (1877-1962), German. Boating, 1910. Oil on canvas, 49¼ × 29 in. Milwaukee Art Museum (http://www.mam.org/collections/modernart_detail_munter.htm). Gift of Mrs Harry Lynde Bradley, M1977.128. © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Following the divorce in 1911, Münter became more insistent about marriage (epigraph). In 1914 at the outbreak of World War I, Kandinsky returned to Russia, writing to Münter that marriage would be impossible until after the war. Still she insisted on meeting; the meeting took place in neutral Stockholm, Sweden, in December 1915. Although there was tension between them, he promised to return before the end of 1916 to marry her.2 But he did not return and his letters suddenly stopped after May 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. They were never to meet in person again.
Not knowing his whereabouts in Russia, Münter remained in Scandinavia for 3 lonely years. She began a series of paintings of women in interiors waiting, hoping, reflecting, or suffering. Reflecting (cover) shows a woman deep in thought, an upward glance, and a forceful sense of presence. Previously Müntersimplified form but now depicted a rhythmical complexity. The colors are softer and more subtle and the face has a sculptural solidity, a representational style distinct from Kandinsky's abstractions.
In 1921, Münter learned from his agent that Kandinsky was very much alive and had married a 17-year-old woman in Russia in February 1917. He had joined Walter Gropius at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany.2 On July 13, 1922, she wrote to him, insisting that he admit that they were husband and wife in a marriage of conscience (if not legally) and that he had broken his vows to her. Nine days later, he responded with a registered letter addressed to “Frau Gabriele Münter-Kandinsky,” expressing his guilt in breaking his promise of marriage but stating that their life together was “constant torture for both of us,”2(p27) yet he had no hard feelings toward her and wished that she would not hate him. In her diaries, titled Confession and Accusation, she reflected, “I allowed myself to be lied to and cheated out of my life. . . . Beautiful words, beautiful gestures, lies. . . . ”2(p27,28) A legal battle between them over his possessions lasted until 1926, but ultimately she kept many of his prewar pictures and personal effects; for her it was not a financial issue but a moral one.1
In 1928, Münter met art historian, philosopher, and journalist Johannes Eichner, and he became her second partner. She wrote about him in 1928, “Now joy has come to me. (Am I ready for it?)”2(p28) When Kandinsky's work was targeted for Hitler's Degenerate Art exhibit in the 1930s, Münter kept the art hidden until after the end of World War II, eventually donating these works to the Municipal Museum in Lenbachhaus in Munich.
Münter reflected, perhaps as an implicit criticism of Kandinsky,4 that a human personality “is rooted in the spiritual and is active from within”5(p115) and cannot meaningfully be dissolved and willfully reconstructed as an abstraction. A human portrait can reveal the inner life. Ultimately, for Münter, it is through examining what is essentially human that we approach the spiritual in art.
Harris JC. Reflecting. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(7):768. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.7.768
Psychiatry in JAMA: Read the Latest