Next time you’re in the Bavarian capital, visit the unrivaled collection of Expressionist art by the Blue Rider painters. Liesl Schillinger chooses five works not to miss

One of Munich’s most splendid treasures is the Lenbachhaus, a yellow villa rich in 19th- and 20th-century paintings. At its core is the work of the Blue Rider group, which arose in the city before the First World War.

Blue Horse I (1911), by Franz Marc The Blue Riders felt that art should purify the soul. To that end, they used colors and forms that worked in harmony and resonated like music. In a letter to the artist August Macke, Marc wrote that the blue of his horse represents "the male principle, austere and spiritual" and yellow "the female principle, gentle, bright, and sensual"; red stood for what is "brutal and heavy." This palette could serve as a lexicon of the group’s color theory.

Portrait of the Dancer Aleksandr Sakharov (1909), by Alexey von Jawlensky The artist’s arresting image of his friend Aleksandr Sakharov—with kohl-rimmed eyes, heavily made up face, and voluptuously rouged mouth—was painted right before Sakharov appeared onstage. The fiery color of the costume jostles with the vulpine face, evoking joy tinged with menace.

Rose Garden (1920), by Paul Klee The painter created this composition of rose, white, and gold before he began teaching at the Bauhaus. He intended the landscape to suggest musical structure and rhythm, an example of what he called "polyphonous painting."

Jawlensky and Werefkin (1909), by Gabriele Münter Münter’s Alpine cottage near Munich doubled as an artists’ colony for the Blue Riders: she shared it with her lover Wassily Kandinsky, one of the group’s leaders; Jawlensky; and Marianne von Werefkin. In this tableau, Münter's technique reveals the interplay of influences among the artists; her cloisonné outlines recall Paul Gauguin—or Jawlensky; her boisterous use of color is pure Kandinsky.

Bertolt Brecht (1926–27), by Rudolf Schlichter The Great War smashed the utopian dreams of the early 20th century, giving rise to politicized new art movements that shunned beauty. Schlichter was a founder of the 1920’s New Objectivity movement, whose artists—including Otto Dix and George Grosz—produced works of sharp social critique. Here, he depicts the playwright as a common man.

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Lenbachhaus Museum