Mountains, lakes and museums. Take a trip to a place that offers a perfect combination of art, culture, landscape and architecture, whether in summer or winter. These are the six most interesting museums showing Blauer Reiter and Expressionist art in the Munich area.
The Alpine uplands south of Munich were a challenge for the Blauer Reiter painters. In countless images they attempted to capture the soul of the mountain foothills with its meadows, moors, fields, villages, people and animals. Franz Marc found the motifs for his Blue Horses here. Pioneers of modern art such as Wassily Kandinsky, Marianne von Werefkin, Alexej Jawlensky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee and Heinrich Campendonk came together at Gabriele Münter’s villa in Murnau am Staffelsee at the beginning of the 20th century.
Many of their paintings are exhibited at Lenbachhaus in Munich, which houses the world’s largest collection of Blauer Reiter works, while others are on display at the MoMA in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. But a considerable number of these paintings are exhibited at venues that are located in the immediate surroundings of where the works themselves originally came into being: at art museums south of Munich.
There are six such museums to explore that are only about an hour’s drive by car or train from the city.
The Münter-Haus tells the love story between Münter and Kandinsky, transporting the visitor back to that five-year period before the outbreak of the First World War which the two artists spent together in the villa on Kottmüllerallee in Murnau. There is probably no other place that offers a more tangible sense of them as human beings. In one black-and-white photograph, Wassily poses in Lederhosen (leather trousers) while gardening; in another he is cuddling the cat. They are young, in love – and tremendously creative.
In the house itself, Gabriele and Wassily painted all the furniture: from the royal blue kitchen buffet with flower vases in the rustic style to the staircase banister in the hallway, which clearly bears Kandinsky’s hallmark. There are pictures, graphics and reverse paintings on glass by the artist couple hanging on the walls.
They also painted each other. In one of the pictures, Münter even offers us a glimpse of her partner in a nightgown reading in bed. They didn’t live a secluded life, constantly inviting guests to their idyll. The Russenhaus, as it was called in the village, was a popular meeting place for the avant-garde. Like-minded painters were welcome here as was the composer Arnold Schönberg, not to mention numerous collectors and gallery owners. The work sessions for the preparation of the Der Blaue Reiter almanac also took place at the Münter-Haus in 1911.
But nowhere had I seen such a wealth of views united as here in Murnau between lake and high mountains, between hilly country and moss.
Münter called for the house to be preserved after her death as a place of remembrance for her art and that of Kandinsky and that it was to be made accessible to the public. At the end of the last millennium it was restored to its original state in the period 1909 to 1914.
How to get there: By train (RB 6 Munich – Garmisch), get off at Murnau, approx. 15 minutes’ walk from the station to the museum
Highlights: The items of furniture painted by Gabriele Münter and Wassiliy Kandinsky themselves.
The Schlossmuseum houses over 80 paintings, drawings and graphics by Gabriele Münter dating from the period 1902 to her death in 1962. On seeing many of the images, hikers familiar with the mountains south of Munich have often been known to exclaim enthusiastically: “That’s exactly what it looks like in real life!” In addition to Münter, the exhibition includes other exponents of the "Neue Künstlervereinigung München" and the Blauer Reiter, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Alexej Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, Alexander Kanoldt, Heinrich Campendonk, Erma Bossi and Adolf Erbslöh, and there are also works by Max Beckmann, who did not belong to any group.
Another focus of the collection goes back a little further to the period prior to 1900 when Munich painters such as Carl Spitzweg explored the natural scenery of the mountains as a motif for their art, as did artists from elsewhere in Germany as Wilhelm Busch and Christian E. B. Morgenstern. There is also a special exhibition dedicated to reverse painting on glass from all over the world, with exhibits ranging from the artists of the Blauer Reiter to contemporary artists such as Rupprecht Geiger (1908 to 2009) and Gerhard Richter.
I made a great leap (in Murnau) after a short period of agony – from painting nature – more or less impressionistically – to feeling a content, to abstracting – to giving an extract.
Another feature of interest is a permanent exhibition on the life and work of the writer Ödön von Horváth, who lived in Murnau from 1923 to 1933. Meanwhile the garden and terrace of Café-Restaurant Schlossgarten are the perfect place to soak up the sunshine for as long as possible in summer, or enjoy a mug of mulled wine in winter.
How to get there: By train (RB 6 Munich – Garmisch), get off at Murnau, approx. 15 minutes’ walk from the station to the museum
Highlights: Gabriel Münter’s Self Portrait (1909), and Landscape near Murnau by Alexej Jawlensky (1909/10)
Lothar-Günther Buchheim – isn’t that the man who wrote Das Boot? Exactly – Buchheim is known to many as the author of the novel Das Boot, in which he describes his experiences as a crew member of a German submarine in the Second World War. The book was made into a film by Wolfgang Petersen in 1981. Lothar-Günther Buchheim (1918 – 2007) was also a painter, photographer, publisher, art book author, film-maker and collector – an artistic jack-of-all-trades who is entirely responsible for the existence of the Buchheim Museum in Bernried by Starnberger See.
The museum’s main holdings comprise an important collection of Expressionist artists, including works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Pechstein, Alexej Jawlensky and Otto Dix. After being included in exhibitions at the Lenbachhaus in Munich in the 1950s and 1970s and going on a world tour from the early to mid-1980s, all these works subsequently found a permanent home at the lakeside property in Bernried. Opened in 2001, the building is the work of star architect Günter Behnisch, who also designed the Munich Olympic Park. One striking architectural highlight is the footbridge that “floats” twelve metres above Lake Starnberg, offering a panoramic view of the Alps.
In addition to the world-famous Expressionists, the museum also puts on exhibitions of contemporary artists, arts and crafts from all over the world – ranging from Bavaria to Africa and Asia – and finally works by the artist Lothar-Günther Buchheim himself. Incidentally, the museum café Buffi is named after the series of circus paintings entitled Riesen-Zirkus-Buffi which was created by Buchheim in the period from 1945 to 1946.
I don't want to make connections and harmonies clear with the usual fuzzy speeches, but directly. I was thinking less of a dull system and more of festivities for the eye.
His concern here was to break away from conventional categorisations and avoid distinctions between high-brow and low-brow art, primarily aiming to offer his visitors a feast for the eyes. One particularly attractive option is to combine a visit to the museum with an outing on Lake Starnberg: there is a combined ticket which includes both the boat trip and museum admission.
82347 Bernried am Starnberger See
How to get there: By train (RB 66 Munich – Kochel), get off at Bernried, approx. 20 minutes’ walk from the station to the museum
Highlights: Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s world-famous Expressionist collection, a souvenir photo on the footbridge with Lake Starnberg in the background
The view through the panorama window on the first floor is spectacular, with the trees, Lake Kochelsee and the nearby mountains including Herzogstand. Whatever the season, it’s the perfect place to simply sit and enjoy the view. The people who run the museum are well aware of this course, which is why they offer Relaxing Yoga in the viewing room on certain days. And anyone wishing to tie the knot can even have their wedding ceremony performed against this wonderful backdrop on request.
The Franz Marc Museum was established in 1986 with a view of the very landscape in which the painter himself lived and worked. Made available by the municipality of Kochel at that time, the villa was supplemented with the extension featuring the panorama window in 2008, created by Zurich architects Diethelm & Spielmann. At the same time, the collection of several hundred works by Franz Marc and the Blauer Reiter holdings were expanded to include paintings by the second important avant-garde movement, the Brücke Expressionists, along with works of post-war German abstract art.
In its exhibitions, the Franz Marc Museum focuses on dialogue with works by other 20th century artists, whether Blauer Reiter and Brücke contemporaries or representatives of subsequent generations of artists. What happens when you hang a Franz Marc next to a Joseph Beuys or a Georg Baselitz?
Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible.
If you want a real delight for the senses, combine a visit to the museum with a walk through the park, where you can stroll past sculptures by Per Kirkeby, Tony Cragg, Alf Lechner and Horst Antes. To round the whole thing off, order a cup of coffee and a slice of cake on the terrace of the museum café Franz am See. mmm
Franz Marc Museum
Franz Marc Park 8-10
82431 Kochel am See
How to get there: By train (RB 66 Munich – Kochel), get off at Kochel, approx. 15 minutes’ walk from the station to the museum, or else take bus 9608 for Garmisch Partenkirchen from the station and get off at Franz Marc Museum
Highlights: The panorama window on the first floor, Franz Marc’s paintings The Red Deer (1912), Jumping Horse (1912) and Large Landscape (1910): these clearly demonstrate how his technique developed from observing nature to using its colours and forms to create abstract images.
Penzberg is not a picturesque place. Situated between Kochelsee and Eurasburg, Penzberg was formerly a mining town, with lignite having been mined here up until the mid-1960s. So what links does this town have to the world of art? Art came to Penzberg in the form of painter and graphic artist Heinrich Campendonk: at Franz Marc’s invitation, Campendonk moved with his family from Krefeld in North Rhine-Westphalia to Sindelsdorf in Upper Bavaria in 1911. With its collieries, mine houses, chimneys and spoil heaps, the workers’ town a few miles from his new home inspired the youngest member of the Blauer Reiter group to create numerous paintings.
The Campendonk Collection now comprises some 300 oil paintings, watercolours and prints from the artist’s complete oeuvre, and in 2016 an annex was added to the museum in Penzberg to hold them. The modern building echoes the shape of the neighbouring listed miners’ residence dating back to the 19th century and is connected to the latter by a glass foyer. For this new tract, architect Thomas Grubert opted for a modern windowless building which he clad in almost coal-black brick in reminiscence of Penzberg’s mining past.
With its collieries, mine houses, chimneys and spoil heaps, the workers’ town inspired Campendonk to create numerous paintings.
In addition to the permanent exhibition of Campendonk’s works, the museum also regularly puts on special exhibitions that focus on individual aspects of his work, as well as exhibitions dedicated to contemporary art. The two small presentations on the town’s history are definitely worth a look, too: in the old part of the museum there is an original two-room apartment once resided in by a miner’s family and dating back to the 1920s, then there is the memorial to the victims of the “Penzberg massacre” whose moral courage cost them their lives just a few days before the end of the war.
Museum Penzberg – Campendonk Collection
Am Museum 1
How to get there: By train (RB 66 Munich – Kochel), get off at Penzberg, approx. 20 minutes’ walk from the station to the museum
Highlights: The world’s largest collection of works by the youngest member of theBlauer Reiter, Heinrich Campendonk
His father was a seal, his mother a troll – at least that is what was claimed by Olaf Gulbransson, who followed the call of the satirical magazine Simplicissimus in 1902 and went on to settle at Schererhof by Tegernsee twenty years later. He felt very much at home here since the water, forests and mountains reminded him of his home in Norway.
Bald, either half-naked or wearing sheepskin trousers, the “viking of Schererhof” spent most of his time working and drawing outdoors. In contrast to his burly figure, his oil paintings and watercolours are remarkably delicate and sensitive, including a particularly tender portrait of his newborn granddaughter. In addition to these less common works, his caricatures are also on display: these are among the highlights of 20th century European drawing. Gulbransson’s principal focus of interest was human physiognomy. He had a unique ability to bring out the characteristic features of a person’s facial expression in just a few strokes.
The flat white museum pavilion that houses the collection was not opened until 1966, eight years after the artist died. The architect was Sep Ruf from Munich, a longstanding friend of the family whose most famous building is probably the former Chancellor’s residence in Bonn, the Kanzlerbungalow. An extension was added to the museum in 2008.
His father was a seal, his mother a troll – at least that is what was claimed by Olaf Gulbransson, who followed the call of the satirical magazine Simplicissimus in 1902 and went on to settle at Schererhof by Tegernsee twenty years later.
For the past two years, gallery owner Michael Beck from Tegernsee has curated additional exhibitions of 19th and 20th century masters at the Olaf Gulbransson Museum. The rare treasures on display in the basement always make it a genuine thrill to enter the exhibition room there. Time and again, Beck manages to put together exhibitions with works of art on loan from private collectors that have often been inaccessible to the public for decades.
For example, the exhibition Von Renoir bis Jawlensky (“From Renoir to Jawlensky”) that was running until 8 January 2023 features paintings by these two artists alongside works by Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann, Lovis Corinth, Paul Gauguin, Erich Heckel, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Liebermann, August Macke, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Gabriele Münter, Emil Nolde, Christian Rohlfs and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Visitors can look forward to more exhibitions of this kind.
Olaf Gulbransson Museum
How to get there: By train (RB 57 Munich – Tegernsee), get off at Tegernsee, approx. 10 minutes’ walk from the station to the museum
Highlights: Self-portraits, photographs and documentaries showing the life of this unusual and eccentric 20th century artist, as well as his drawings of course, with special exhibitions dedicated to 19th and 20th century masters