Formation of the Blue Four Advances Abstract Painting Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

When four leading abstract painters in Germany formed a partnership to promote their work, they made a significant contribution to the worldwide revolution in modern art.

Summary of Event

Emmy Scheyer was born in Braunschweig, Germany. As a young student, she discovered the paintings of Russian immigrant Alexey von Jawlensky and was so impressed by the new art form they represented that she decided to devote her life to publicizing Jawlensky’s work. Through Jawlensky, she met many other avant-garde painters, including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Lyonel Feininger, who were teaching at the Bauhaus school of design. Because their art was revolutionary and as yet unpopular, all four men were chronically in need of money. [kw]Formation of the Blue Four Advances Abstract Painting (Mar. 31, 1924) [kw]Blue Four Advances Abstract Painting, Formation of the (Mar. 31, 1924) [kw]Abstract Painting, Formation of the Blue Four Advances (Mar. 31, 1924) [kw]Painting, Formation of the Blue Four Advances Abstract (Mar. 31, 1924) Blue Four Art movements;German expressionism Abstract art Painting;abstract Art;modern German expressionism [g]Germany;Mar. 31, 1924: Formation of the Blue Four Advances Abstract Painting[06040] [g]Latin America;Mar. 31, 1924: Formation of the Blue Four Advances Abstract Painting[06040] [g]Mexico;Mar. 31, 1924: Formation of the Blue Four Advances Abstract Painting[06040] [g]United States;Mar. 31, 1924: Formation of the Blue Four Advances Abstract Painting[06040] [c]Arts;Mar. 31, 1924: Formation of the Blue Four Advances Abstract Painting[06040] Kandinsky, Wassily Klee, Paul Feininger, Lyonel Jawlensky, Alexey von Scheyer, Emmy Neumann, J. B.

This was especially true after Germany’s defeat in World War I and during the period of devastating inflation that followed. In 1924, Scheyer (who was given the nickname “Galka”—Russian for “black bird”—by Jawlensky) volunteered to promote their paintings in the affluent United States, which was famous for its receptivity to new ideas. On March 31, 1924, an agreement was signed designating Scheyer as the artists’ American representative. For publicity purposes they christened their group Die Blaue Vier (the Blue Four), a reference to Der Blaue Reiter (the blue rider), a group of painters who had been inspired and led by the mystical Kandinsky.

In May of 1924, the aggressive, charismatic Scheyer went to New York and began sending out thousands of pamphlets to universities, museums, and art associations, offering them exhibits and her services as a lecturer. In New York, she met and collaborated with J. B. Neumann, another ardent admirer of the new German avant-garde art who eventually became a wealthy Manhattan art dealer.

The first Blue Four exhibition was arranged by Scheyer at the Daniel Gallery, New York, in 1925. Sales were disappointing. Hoping for a better reception in the West, Scheyer traveled to California, lecturing about her artists along the way. Over the next three years, she gave lectures and arranged Blue Four exhibitions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and Spokane, Washington.

Scheyer returned to Europe several times before World War II in order to collect new paintings. In 1929, the Oakland Art Gallery across the bay from San Francisco opened a traveling Blue Four exhibition under the sponsorship of the Western Association of Art Museums. A big show was held in Hollywood at the Braxton Gallery in 1930. In 1931, the prestigious Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco held a Blue Four exhibition under Scheyer’s direction. That same year, Scheyer was invited by the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera to arrange an exhibition at the national library in Mexico City.

By that time, Scheyer was a resident of Hollywood. She became a social celebrity and sold modern German paintings to members of the affluent film colony. The deepening worldwide depression of the 1930’s created havoc in the international art market, and Scheyer was forced to earn her living mainly by giving art lessons to children. She never stopped devoting the bulk of her boundless energies to promoting the works of her Blue Four friends, however.

The American public was slow to accept avant-garde German art, both because the new art was revolutionary in nature and because Germany had only recently been an enemy in World War I. Although Americans had become attuned to French Impressionism, they were not ready to accept the radical notions embodied in the new German works. In fact, many critics and connoisseurs regarded the new art as little more than a hoax, calling the works crude, primitive, childish, incompetent, vulgar, or deliberately ugly and offensive.

A few, however, like Scheyer, immediately understood and responded to what the Blue Four were trying to do. These perceptive individuals, mostly artists themselves, were delighted with the possibility of being liberated from the tradition that held that the artist should copy nature.

An important factor in the appeal of the Blue Four was the rapid development of photography. Just as live performers were being threatened by cinematic photography, painters were being threatened by still photography. Why pay a high price for a painting or drawing when a camera could produce an even better likeness for a much cheaper price? The artists’ defense of painting held that it was the element of human emotion that made the difference between painting and photography, which led to various experiments to capture the essential human emotion while either distorting the subject or doing without a subject altogether.

The Blue Four lasted for only one decade. The group broke up in the face of the growing repression of the Nazi government under Adolf Hitler, who hated what he called “degenerate art” and who favored art that served to promote patriotism, militarism, and totalitarianism. Nazi Germany;art Klee returned to Switzerland in 1933; Kandinsky emigrated to France in 1933 and never returned to Germany. Feininger returned to the United States in 1936. Jawlensky remained in Nazi Germany until his death in 1941, but from 1933 on he was forbidden to exhibit his works.

During its brief life span, the Blue Four spread the message—particularly to the United States—that pictorial art had a potential that exceeded the mere copying of people, places, and things or the creation of attractive pictures to adorn the walls of wealthy patrons. Instead, they demonstrated, art could be used to explore the depths of human consciousness and communicate a vast range of ideas and feelings in a universal language.

Significance

It is hard to overestimate the impact of German expressionist art. It had not only an unmistakable direct influence on oil painting and watercolors but also a far more important influence on the public at large through such things as package design, newspaper and magazine advertising, textile design, and the design of record covers, book jackets, greeting cards, wallpaper, stage scenery, billboards, posters, comic strips, animated cartoons, and television commercials. The masses have come to accept the concepts of German expressionist art without for the most part realizing where such concepts originated.

In the Walt Disney film Fantasia, Fantasia (film) which was a bold experiment in filmmaking at the time of its release in 1940, there are many examples of the influence of German expressionism to be seen. One of the most striking is the sequence in which abstract shapes of assorted colors are generated and modified to correspond to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. In this instance, the main influence is probably that of Kandinsky.

In the 1930’s, when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced against stylized backdrops representing the skyscrapers of Manhattan and other modernistic settings, most of the members of the motion-picture audience were appreciating artistic concepts first introduced by Feininger, although they would not have recognized his name. For many years, the covers of The New Yorker magazine also reflected the influence of all four members of the Blue Four and other German expressionist artists. The most notable example is the work of William Steig. The influence of both Klee and Jawlensky, moreover, is evident in the phenomenally popular comic strip Peanuts.

The impact of German expressionists on other painters has also been tremendous. Visitors to any major art museum are likely to wander through many rooms full of pictures of fat cherubs and portraits of men and women in lace and suddenly to feel as if they have entered a different universe when they find their way into exhibits marked “modern art.” Even if such viewers do not fully understand abstract painting, they are likely to feel refreshed by the vivid colors and the whole sense of creative liberation represented by such canvases. The influence of such artists as Kandinsky and Klee is unmistakable. So dramatic has been the influence of such artists that many members of the art world have come to regard artists working in the traditional vein with contempt, calling them “illusionists,” “illustrators,” or, perhaps worst of all, “bourgeois painters.” Such attitudes are clearly unfair to sincere and gifted traditional artists.

The impact of German expressionism and related movements has not been an unmitigated good; expressionism has spawned myriad untalented imitators whose main attraction to nonrepresentational art is in being freed from the need to develop technical expertise, the need to work long, hard hours to perfect a piece of art, and the need to have anything in particular to communicate. Many poseurs have capitalized on the sacrifices of true artists such as Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, and Jawlensky, and some have made substantial money and seen their works displayed in the best museums.

The Blue Four artists and their colleagues had a definite political impact, too. Both the German dictator Adolf Hitler and the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin hated the new expressionist art. Both recognized it for what it was: the proclamation of the freedom of the individual. Blue Four Art movements;German expressionism Abstract art Painting;abstract Art;modern German expressionism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beale, Penny. “J. B. Neumann and the Introduction of Modern German Art to New York, 1923-1933.” Archives of American Art Journal 29, nos. 1 and 2 (1989): 3-15. Interesting profile of a colorful character who was influential in introducing modern German art to the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Droste, Magdalena. Bauhaus, 1919-1933. Cologne, Germany: Benedikt Taschen Verlag, 1998. Focuses on the collection of the Bauhaus Archiv Museum of Design in Berlin in examining the progression of the Bauhaus movement. Extensively illustrated. Includes artist and architect biographies, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Joachimides, Christos M., Norman Rosenthal, and Wieland Schmied, eds. German Art in the Twentieth Century: Painting and Sculpture, 1905-1985. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1985. Comprehensive collection of essays on all aspects of twentieth century German art, including its historical background and its international influence, by many different authorities in the field. Features hundreds of full-color and black-and-white illustrations. Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, and Jawlensky are all discussed and represented with many color reproductions. Includes biographies of all important twentieth century German artists, with bibliographic references for each individual.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kentgens-Craig, Margret. The Bauhaus and America: First Contacts, 1919-1936. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999. Scholarly examination of the reception of the Bauhaus in the United States and the reasons for American reactions to the movement’s concepts. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roters, Eberhard. Painters of the Bauhaus. Translated by Anna Rose Cooper. New York: Praeger, 1969. A history of Bauhaus painters and art instruction, with considerable attention given to the methods and personalities of Klee, Kandinsky, and Feininger. Illustrated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sandback, Amy Baker. “Blue Heights Drive.” Artforum 28 (March, 1990): 123-127. A rare profile of Emmy Scheyer, the colorful woman who devoted much of her life to publicizing the Blue Four. Contains photographs of her in her modernistic home in the Hollywood Hills, where she entertained such film figures as Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, and Greta Garbo.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tolstoy, Leo. What Is Art? Translated by Almyer Maude. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960. Neglected masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest writers offers a simple definition of art, summarizes the history of aesthetics, and voices a conservative reaction to the modernistic art theories that were emerging at the beginning of the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Whitford, Frank. Bauhaus. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984. Complete history of the most celebrated and influential art school of modern times. Useful for understanding the relationship between Bauhaus ideas about architecture and fine art. Includes many illustrations, mostly photographs of historical interest.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolfe, Tom. The Painted Word. 1975. Reprint. New York: Bantam Books, 1999. Funny, irreverent history of abstract art in the United States illustrates the ways in which the principles behind abstract art have been exploited, abused, and misunderstood.

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