August Macke, German (1887 - 1914)

In a letter of 1911 to August Macke, Franz Marc addressed his friend with a nobilitating "August Vonderfarbe" (as who should say, Monsieur de Couleur), very aptly characterizing Macke's principal artistic concern. The two had met the year before in Munich. Their friendship, by which their art mutually profited, brought Macke in contact with the painters of the Blauer Reiter (especially Wassily Kandinsky and Alexei von Javlensky). However, Macke never shared their tendency to mystical considerations and metaphysical speculation. Rather than attributing abstract values and significances to colors as Marc did, Macke used them solely to express his own personal feelings and ideas.

When Marc praised him in his obituary as "the one who gave colors the brightest and purest tone of us all," he meant the elemental lucidity, order, and harmony that pervaded Macke's art. It was not a spiritualization of nature, but what he called a "joyful living through of nature" that determined his approach. This explains why seeing a show of the works of Matisse, in Munich in 1911, was so important to Macke, for it confirmed his own love of brilliant color and simplified form. The decisive influence on his work, however, came after he had become familiar with Cubism and Futurism, and seen the paintings of Edvard Munch. This influence was Robert Delaunay, whom he and Marc visited in Paris in 1912.

A combination of German and French influences is seen in Clown in the Circus of that year, a rare example of a decidedly graphic and caricaturist approach in Macke's watercolor work. What intrigued him in Delaunay was that artist's Window Pictures (1912), with their transparent, facetted planes of pure color and their definition of space by means of color alone. Creating "living" color, wrote Macke, and discovering the "space defining energies of color... that is our finest goal."

He already achieved it in his watercolor Fashion Window of 1913. The prismatic hues, complementary color contrasts, and the prominent use of lettering, in the "Mode" sign, all strongly recall Delaunay, but the effect of the whole is inimitably Macke. Unlike the French artist, he did not search for "a new reality" (Delaunay's words) behind the window but attempted to create a visual metaphor for a beautiful, sunny, yet very real and ordinary day.

Lady in a Green Jacket, done during a stay at Thun Lake in 1913, shows an especially harmonious arrangement of form and a fine equilibration of color. A year later, the alternation among statuesque figures, softly rendered foliage and grass, and blocky, Cubistic houses in the background, gave way to the more atmospheric approach of Man Reading in the Park (1914). Here, as G. Vriesen notes, "corporeality dissolves in light and ambient atmosphere ... without, however, forfeiting vital objective presence. An organic vibration of air, space and illumination, an emerging and passing away, a blurring and intermerging, dominate the picture."

One of Macke's last paintings was the unfinished work that now bears the title Farewell. "With absolute clarity," Vriesen states, "the picture reflects the gloom and numbness that befell public life" before the first year of war was out, "the mood of uncertainty and disquiet which took possession of Macke as well."

- From 20th Century Art: Museum Ludwig Cologne

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