Breakfast of the Birds exemplifies Gabriele Münter’s expressionist style: thick, rapid brushstrokes, heavy, dark outlines, simplified forms, and compressed space. In the painting, a woman sits indoors at a table arrayed with a meal. We share her view of snowcapped trees and a host of birds through the window. The heavy-looking draperies framing the window add an element of coziness or claustrophobia, depending on one’s perspective. This interior has been interpreted alternately as indicative of solitude and quiet reflection or entrapment and emotional isolation. With her back to the viewer, the woman portrayed here has been identified by some scholars as the artist herself.
In 1911, Münter and other artists, including Franz Marc, Alexei Jawlensky, and Münter’s then-partner Vassily Kandinsky, founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a progressive group based in Munich. Münter’s work is often associated with the expressionist style practiced by members of this group, but she demonstrated a sense of self-awareness and individuality that she applied passionately to her vivid canvases. In the midst of the Nazi era, Münter ignored the limitations imposed on her as a radical artist and continued to produce still lifes, portraits, landscapes, and interior scenes, such as Breakfast of the Birds.
Shortly after the Kandinsky “affair” Gabriele pretty much gave up painting. She did return to it later in life and this lovely piece is from that period. Although it has a bit of a lonely vibe, for me it has a kind of soothing quiet solitude that is more comforting than sad. The birds bring a certain cheerfulness that somehow balances the solitary breakfast. The intriguing ”Cezannesq” tilted table and the great thought provoking title round it all out. I do love the title!
18 x 24 ¾ inches, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.
Gabriele Münter was a German expressionist painter who was at the forefront of the Munich avant-garde in the early 20th century. In Breakfast of the Birds, she takes a surprising viewpoint: depicting from behind a woman seated at her dining room table. The woman - sometimes identified as the artist herself - looks out the window onto a wintry landscape, where a group of titmice and a robin are perched on the snow-covered limbs of a tree.
This painting demonstrates the signature elements of Münter’s style: broad, thick, quickly applied brush strokes, heavy dark outlines, the ambiguous use of perspective, the lack of modeling, which makes the empty plate, for example, seem two-dimensional.