As one of the leaders of the short-lived German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), August Macke shared the belief that colors should express moods and feelings instead of representing an objective reality. The German’s preoccupation with color is evident in Woman in a Green Jacket where the main subject is set against a river panorama, as admired from under the shade of trees on a sunny day.
Vertically centered in the foreground, the woman is elegantly dressed in a green jacket and a dark blue skirt and she is looking down contemplatively. She’s set apart by the elements in the background: the trees on each side and two couples flanking her. This positioning not only adds depth to the composition, but it also singles her out, as the one not part of a pair, alone in her meditation. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that even the houses on the left shore are mirrored by the buildings on the right shore. Everything is paired.
It’s also noteworthy that as our gaze progresses, we can see the landscape turning brighter, in contrast with the woman standing in the shadows of the tree canopy. This gives the subject a gloomy feel, that she’s somehow different than all the rest. It could be because, as opposed to the other couples, she’s feeling sad. It could also be the fact that she’s alone, with no companion to enjoy the warm, sunny day. While the other couples seem to be admiring the river and the scene before them, she clearly looks withdrawn, turning away from the brightness of the landscape.
As usual in Macke’s works, no one has distinctive features. All the people depicted look like faceless mannequins, generic silhouettes. The colors blend in diffusely, increasing the haziness of the scene, as if the German artist used watercolors or soft pastels instead of oil paint.
Macke died during World War I at just 27 years old, leaving us wondering whether he would have followed in his friends’ and colleagues’ footsteps and also embraced abstract art. With his experimental nature and his passionate love for color, he left behind the promise of immense unfulfilled potential.