Arthur Lehning and the Blue Rider Almanac

From September 9 2017 till January 14 2018 , Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen exhibited a very special edition of 'Der Almanach Der Blaue Reiter' (The Blue Rider Almanac, 1912), acquired from the estate of Arthur Lehning (1899-2000). The Almanac was contextualised with artworks relating to its provenance and to the revolutionary artistic concepts of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter.

Joint purchase

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen purchased this special edition of the Blue Rider Almanac in 2016 together with the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD), the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The purchase was supported by the Mondriaan Fund and the BankGiro Lottery.

Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, the Blue Rider Almanac, 1912.
In a letter to Franz Marc, dated 19 June 1911, Wassily Kandinsky first mentioned the idea of working together on a publication, not knowing that it would be one of the most important art books of the twentieth century. The exhibition featured the numbered copy of the deluxe edition of the Blue Rider Almanac, including its original sleeve. The book is bound in blue kid leather and has a vignette by Kandinsky embossed with gold lead on the title page


Inserted at the front of this deluxe edition are two signed, hand-coloured woodblock prints by the editors: Wassily Kandinsky’s Bogenschutze (The Archer, 1908-09) and Franz Marc’s Fabeltier (Fantastic Creature, 1912). Kandinsky’s woodcut is an abstracted depiction of a solitary archer with bow and arrow in a rural setting. The lively, almost vibrating colours make it difficult to distinguish the figure from the lush landscape.

As for the title, Kandinsky explained that, ‘We both loved blue, Marc horses; I riders.’ The popular Christian saints George and Martin were fused on the cover in the figure of the blue rider. Kandinsky's favourite medium for illustrations was the woodcut because ‘one discovers the traces of my development from the “figurative” to the abstract’.

Both Kandinsky and Marc wrote important texts for the Almanac. The book concludes with by longest contribution by far, Kandinsky’s ‘Über die Formfrage’ (On the Problem of Form), followed by his theatre piece ‘Der gelbe Klang’ (The Yellow Sound), which was published for the first time in the Almanac.


Wassily Kandinsky, Der gelbe Klang, 1909.
Audio (composition by Alfred Schnittke after Wassily Kandinsky, 1974)

Wassily Kandinsky first published his experimental theatre text – combining painting, music and theatre – in the Blue Rider Almanac. The music for his groundbreaking Gesamtkunstwerk was originally composed by Thomas de Hartmann. Because De Hartmann’s composition was dependent on circumstances of the piece’s original performance, in 1974 Alfred Schnittke wrote new music for the piece so that it could be performed anywhere.

 

Erwin Blumenfeld, The Historian Arthur Lehning, 1933.

Gelatin silver print

About Arthur Lehning

Arthur Lehning was a mirror of his time and surrounded himself with a broad circle of figures who would later achieve considerable fame, in particular the artist and functionalist architects of De Stijl and the Bauhaus.

As an anarcho-syndicalist, he was intensively involved in political developments in Europe and can be considered a member of the political vanguard. Through his interest in literature, art and culture and through his magazine ‘Internationale Revue i10’ he was also at the centre of the cultural life of his time.

Through his magazine i10, which was represented in the exhibition by two bound volumes from museum’s collection, Lehning succeeded in championing different artistic voices, with contribution from artists as different as Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondriaan.

Display

The presentation of the items in the exhibition was conceived by trainee curator, Luuk Hoogewerf. He selected objects from different disciplines, such as painting, music, stained glass, printed matter and design. The gallery was designed to look like a sacred chapel for the Blue Rider Almanac. For example, a chair by Gerrit Rietveld was placed to give the suggestion of a prie-dieu facing the Blue Rider Almanac. The music was tonal and the stained-glass panels were hung high on the walls. The installation gave the space a sacred and spiritual atmosphere.  The museum’s displays of its permanent collection contain works with direct references to the Blue Rider Almanac.

El Greco, Saint John the Evangelist, c.1610-20.
Oil on canvas

The museum’s collection contains a beautiful painting by El Greco. The figure in this expressive painting is identified by the dragon on the lower right, which is part of one of John the Evangelist’s attributes: the chalice. This portrait of a saint contributed to the exhibition’s sacred and spiritual atmosphere in the exhibition.  The artists’ group Der Blaue Reiter developed a highly characteristic, colourful, expressive style with a high degree of abstraction. United by a belief in the spiritual dimension of art, the members of Der Blaue Reiter viewed the extraordinarily expressive El Greco as the old master who came closest to their ideas about what Franz Marc described as the ‘mystical inner construction’.

Charley Toorop, Self-Portrait, 1928.
Oil on canvas

Charley Toorop and Arthur Lehning had already known of each other by name for some time when they met by coincidence on a train from The Hague to Amsterdam in 1928. The encounter was the beginning of a passionate relationship. They seemed like the ideal couple: she a painter and he a writer, with a shared interest in literature, art, culture and politics. Although their relationship ended not long after this portrait was painted, Lehning kept the painting all his life.

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Military Chair, 1923-26.
Painted deal and plywood, screws

Arthur Lehning’s famous friends and acquaintances included the artists and Functionalist architects of De Stijl and the Bauhaus. This side chair by Gerrit Rietveld was part of Lehning’s interior, designed by César Domela.

The chair is pink, not a colour that Rietveld would normally have used. Trainee curator Luuk Hoogewerf thinks that the chair may have been part of the furniture in Charley Toorop’s house because Rietveld painted several of his chairs pink for Toorop. The underside of the chair bears traces of black and yellow, colours that Rietveld more frequently used for his chairs.

Arthur Lehning, Internationale Revue i10, 1928-29.
Printed paper

With his magazine, Arthur Lehning succeeded in presenting various facets of his time alongside each other. How successful he was in meaningfully integrating them is debatable. He believed that politics, philosophy, science, culture, literature and the performing arts are on a single line, but more or less in this order. 

i 10: Internationale revue

Tijdschrift

Arthur Lehning, Internationale Revue i10, 1927.
Printed paper

‘The Internationale Revue i10 aims to be an organ for all expressions of the modern spirit […]’. These are the opening words of the first issue of Arthur Lehning’s magazine ‘i10’. The magazine provided a podium for Lehning’s international circle of friends and acquaintances who were members of the artistic or political avant-garde in the 1920s.

Johan Thorn Prikker, Bleeding Heart, 1927.
Stained glass

Members of Der Blaue Reiter found a new stimulus for their work in stained glass. The stylistic simplification of forms – blocks of pure colour, outlined in black – appealed to them. The apparent primitiveness and spirituality of stained glass inspired and confirmed their own artistic ambitions.

Johan Thorn Prikker, Tongues of Flame, 1927.
Stained glass