Biography August Macke

August Macke, 1905

August Macke (1887–1914)

August Macke is regarded worldwide as one of the most important artists of the Classic Modern era and is one of the most popular German artists of the 20thcentury. His large oeuvre, created in only a few years and numbering almost 600 oil paintings and just as many water-colors and nearly 9,000 drawings, is characterized by a unique and unmistakable style and is considered to be one of Expressionism's most significant achievements.

Of central and significant importance in the work of August Macke is the deployment of color and its luminous effects; his core motif is the unity of humankind and nature. Macke saw art as a parable, as the "song of the beauty of things." Brightness, clarity, the here-and-now, and trust in the visible world are specific characteristics of his art. He translated his deeply felt beauty of living and of the world into harmonious symphonies of paradise-like imagery that convey his positive outlook on life and the joy of existence he felt.

Maria and Franz Marc in the studio of August Macke, 1912 © Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus München

Macke spent the decisive years of his artistic development in Bonn, which had been his home since he was 12 years old.

In 1903, while still in school, he met his future wife, Elisabeth Gerhardt, with whom he shared a deep love and spiritual kinship. Elisabeth's wealthy family encouraged and supported the young artist and helped finance his travels, such as trips to Paris that were so important for his artistic development. In 1910 the family turned over to August and Elisabeth the house on Bornheimer Strasse, where August had the top floor converted into a light-filled studio in accordance with his design and instructions.

From the beginning of 1911 to 1914 Macke created the largest and most important part of his extensive oeuvre in this studio while his artistic development carried him to the top tier of Europe's avant-garde. Among these works are many images of his immediate surroundings in Bonn that are easy to recognize even today.

Together with Franz Marc, a close friend and frequent visitor since the beginning of 1910, Macke painted the monumental "Paradise" mural on the wall of his studio. Its programmatic significance for the new art in the years just prior to the first World War was unfortunately not recognized or appreciated in Bonn until 1980 - after it had been removed from the studio and transported to the Landesmuseum in Münster.

Invitation, 1913 © Kunstmuseum Bonn

It was from Bonn that August Macke also involved himself in the politics of the art scene, the effects of which were felt beyond the Rhineland in Munich, Berlin, and Paris.

With the "Exhibition of Rhineland Expressionists" that he initiated and organized in Bonn in 1913, Macke succeeded in giving form to the western German avant-garde in the overall context of the closely networked Expressionist scene and applying to it a name that gave it an identity both in regional and artistic terms, thus finally establishing the Rhineland as one of the centers of young Expressionist art alongside Berlin and Munich.

In addition, Macke was one of the most important members of the Blauer Reiter, together with Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, and he authored significant contributions to programmatic writings of progressive and internationally oriented artists such as "Im Kampf um die Moderne Kunst“ or the "Almanach des Blauen Reiters."

August Macke established his profile, not only in the Rhineland, as a moving force and the most important integrative figure of the young artist generation then searching for new possibilities of visual expression, but also as one of the most effective promoters of modern art in Germany in the years leading up to the first World War. He was one of the important participants in epochal art events such as the "International Sonderbund Exhibition" in Cologne in 1912 or the "First German Autumn Salon" in Berlin in 1913.

August Macke was noted for his charismatic personality. His buoyant temperament, energy, lust for life, and a natural demeanor that delighted in the good things in life deeply impressed contemporaries and friends. To many people he appeared as the personification of a happy individual who had made it good. A remarkable circle of friends and companions and links to well-known representatives of art, culture, and intellectual life in imperial Germany were the results of his famous talent for communication and his ability to form genuine and unselfish friendships.

Passage to Tunisia, 1914