August Macke – Woman in a Green Jacket (1913)

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.

August Macke - Woman in a Green Jacket
August Macke – Woman in a Green Jacket (1913), oil on canvas

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 While the other couples seem to be admiring the river and the scene before them, she clearly looks withdrawn, turning away from the brightness of the landscape.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.

17 thoughts on “August Macke – Woman in a Green Jacket (1913)

    1. You’re right, Emma, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it that way. We know women got empowered after WWI when they saw they could substitute men in factories and do well by themselves, but I never realized that their chances to find a mate decreased too.

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    1. Yes, and the fact that she’s the point of focus distracts us from noticing that the couple on the left is smaller than the one to the right, when it should have been the complete opposite.

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  1. “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.”

    Nailed it, and, it’s also the reason I don’t get excited by his work. Which doesn’t mean I’m not grateful that others do, and especially that they write about why. Not every artist is for everyone, and I don’t much like Cezanne or Matisse. But I am still interested in why some people like some art and other other art.

    It kinda’ reminds me of when I was a kid and I absolutely could not stomach even a minute of a soap opera. I like science fiction. Sci-fi was, at it’s best, a realistic depiction of something that didn’t exist. Soap operas were an unrealistic depiction of something that did exist. It’s a question of temperament. Though I also think it’s good to develop some appreciation of all art.

    Not drawing faces seems a bit of a cop out. Vincent would try his best even in the beginning when he obviously didn’t have the skills. But I do like this painting, it just doesn’t, for me, have the magic of a Van Gogh or a Gauguin. And I don’t think any Expressionist matches Van Gogh’s intensity of expression. Nolde perhaps comes close, but in a very different way, and only sometimes.

    Should I only comment when I like a piece? Nah. More interesting to examine likes and dislikes, me thinks. I could learn to like this painting, but never love it. Again, I’m glad other people do appreciate it more than I do. If everyone liked what I like the world would be just a mirror and I’d start to believe in Solipsism.

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    1. Feel free to express your opinion when you dislike these artworks too. I certainly won’t take it personally. How could I? I didn’t paint them. Most people seem to appreciate Macke for his colors and I think it’s the same for Matisse. Cezanne is the one I can’t get myself to like. I can rationalize the importance of what he did, but … that’s about it.

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  2. I know this is an older post, but I just found out about this blog. I’m a painter and I used to feel the same way about Cezanne, but he is not a young person’s painter. Now, I believe him to be one of, if not the purest painter to ever pick up a brush. Macke, like so many other artists of his generation, appreciated Cezanne. It’s evident in the houses, the arching tree limbs and the rather formal structure of the composition. By the way, it’s worth noting that color can describe form, atmospheric perspective, etc.and at the same time–mood. That was something understood by painters long before impressionism and the modernists that followed.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, James. It’s true, I can see Cezanne’s influence in the composition – specifically in those arching tree limbs, like you pointed out. Maybe color plays a more significant role in how we appreciate an artwork or an artist, since we perceive it so instinctively. I fail to get that “aha!” reaction with Cezanne despite his obvious talent, but that is just my experience. I can still understand why others would appreciate him or consider him an influence in their own art.

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  3. Thank you James, we bought the painting 2 weeks ago and my 11year old daughter interpretation was, that the women in a green jacket definitely suffered a great loss and even though there’s a bright happy future ahead, she is turning her back against as she is still hurting. Thank you for your comment.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Glory. I think your daughter is showing great sensibility in interpreting the painting. This is also a reminder that regardless of our age and experience good art will never leave us indifferent if we keep an open mind about it.

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