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In 2015, KAM contracted with Rimer Fine Art Conservation, a firm based in Chicago, for conservation work on Gabriele Münter’s oil painting The Blue Gable (1911).
Münter was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (“blue rider”) group of expressionist painters in Germany along with Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Alexej von Jawlensky.These artists of the early 20th century Munich avant-garde were notable for their use of abstraction and color, through which they endeavored to explore the spiritual connotations of elements in nature. Such features are evident in The Blue Gable, painted during a summer in the town of Murnau, showing a haystack and tree in the foreground rendered as bold lines converging on brightly colored buildings in the background.
When Albert L. Arenberg of Chicago gifted the painting to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1956, Münter was virtually unknown, her works valued for their association with Kandinsky’s path to pure abstraction (Münter and Kandinsky were longtime lovers).
In the past twenty years, Münter’s work has benefited from focused research, and, as a result, KAM’s painting has traveled to prominent exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. These have included the survey exhibition Gabriele Münter, The Years of Expressionism, 1903–1920 organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1997 (which has a stellar collection of works by Münter), Confronting Identities in German Art: Myths, Reactions, Reflections organized by the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago in 2002, and an upcoming exhibition at the Neue Galerie in New York in 2016. The Neue Galerie and KAM shared the cost of conservation to benefit the work as part of their exhibition.
Before conservation began, The Blue Gable was covered in a yellow brown grime with a few scratches and scuffs apparent on the surface. The frame, vintage but not original to the painting, was in need of attention, with fragile paint in many areas and flaking in the corner ornamentation.
Rimer Fine Art Conservation completed a thorough surface cleaning and toned a few small areas where paint had been lost. These steps have brightened the work overall—Münter’s brilliant colors shine through. The frame was restored in its most fragile places and stabilized. Rimer also added support to the back of the painting to reduce vibrations, ensuring further stability when the work travels.
In the future, KAM may consider an environmental vitrine for The Blue Gable to protect it from further scratches and deteriorations of the surface that inevitably occur over time.
Author: Amy L. Powell, curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2015