August Macke Paintings: A look at his Best Work

Flower vase and book painting by August Macke

August Macke became the driving force of Rhenish Expressionism through his highly progressive ideas in the 20th century. He was a member and founder of Der Blaue Reiter – a group of talented German expressionists.  Like the members of the group, Macke’s subject of choice was the beauty and innocence of nature surrounding him. August Macke paintings express his pragmatic views political views through graphic art.

Self portrait of august macke
Self Portrait (1906) by August Macke. Public Domain

August Macke paintings are characterized by intensely saturated primary colors and serene, cheerful themes. The subjects of his work are usually both humans and the environment they live in. The chosen elements are often oversimplified and symbolic rather than realistic. 

Following is an analysis of some famous August Macke Paintings:

1. Mädchen am Springbrunnen (1913)

Mosaic painting by august macke
Mädchen am Springbrunnen (1913) by August Macke. Public Domain

The moment you look at this piece it is clear that it has strong features of cubism. This painting closely resembles the style of Macke’s colleague Franz Marc, who was also the co-founder of Der Blaue Reiter. 

Every element of the painting is divided into a number of smaller building blocks with the help of separate colors or geometric shapes. The most common shapes used are triangles and rectangles that continuously repeat themselves throughout the painting in different alignments.

Macke’s usage of highly saturated colors adjacent to each other creates a unique and eye-catching contrast. The repetitive shapes along with the beautiful colors give the painting a mosaic-like effect. The colors along with the style give rise to the breathtaking vibrancy and fresh liveliness.  

2. Female nude with coral necklace (1910)

Nude portrait of Elisabeth by Macke
Female nude with coral necklace, 1910 by August Macke. Public Domain

August Macke was deeply in love with his wife Elisabeth Erdmann-Macke who was both his muse and his model. He believed that she was his true soulmate. While in the beginning, she was only a model for his art, she soon became Macke’s business partner. 

Macke’s undying admiration for Elisabeth often percolated into his art and he portrayed her in more than 200 paintings. Among these paintings were several nudes that became some of his most recognizable works. 

In the “Female Nude with Coral Necklace” we see clean, thick contours that outline the woman’s body. This allows her figure to pop beautifully against the background.   

Macke hardly uses any details on the face of the nude. However, her expressions are still recognizable. She seems completely engrossed in herself and the coral necklace. Macke portrays his respect and admiration for his wife through her portraits. 

3. Zoologischer Garten 1 (1913)

Colorful zoo painting by August Macke
Zoologischer Garten 1 (1913) by August Macke. Public Domain

Macke’s painting titled “Zoologischer Garten” presents a paradisiacal scene from an unrealistically colorful sanctuary for animals. The painting is set in the Cologne Zoo which the artist often used to visit for inspiration. 

He would make several rough sketches of the scenes he would see at the zoo and later complete them in his studio. One of the most striking features of the painting is the repetition of its elements. He draws a set of identical men in the center of the painting and then also another set on the left edge. 

One may also notice a number of birds, especially two very colorful parrots in the scene. Macke’s purpose behind this repetition is perhaps to provide a sense of harmony and rhythm in the otherwise chaotic background. 

4. Spielende Kinder am Wasser (1914)

Children playing in river august macke painting
Spielende Kinder am Wasser (1914) by August Macke. Fair Use. 

“Spielende Kinder am Wasser”  is a German title for August Macke’s 1914 painting that directly translates to “Children Playing By the Water”. The subject of the painting is exactly what the title suggests. 

While none of the structures in the painting are very clear, they are only roughly identifiable. However, the sheer intensity and vibrance of Macke’s palette make it impossible for us to look away. He made the painting simpler by using abstract symbols instead of more realistic versions of some of the elements in his work.

 A pastel teal color has been given lots of space near the right side of the painting, to emphasize the brightness of the waterbody, illuminated by sunlight. This radiant color matches well with the upbeat mood of the children who are playing near the water on a hot summer day. 

5. Stillleben mit Anemonen und blauem Buc (1911) by August Macke: 

Flower vase and book painting by August Macke
Stillleben mit Anemonen und blauem Buch (1911) by August Macke

“Still life with anemones and a blue book” is a 1911 still-life painting by August Macke. The colors used in this painting are not only vibrant but have an underlying luminosity perhaps because of heavy blue undertones. 

While the flowers have a beautiful mix of different colors, Macke balanced it with a very minimalistic, almost monochrome background. This muted background allows the beauty of the flowers to unfold completely on the canvas. 

The viewers may again notice Macke’s thick and prominent contours even on something as delicate as flowers. However, these outlines are so effortless that they fit right into the painting without making it look odd.

6. Sonniger Weg (1913) 

Sunny path painting
Sonniger Weg (1913) by August Macke

Macke’s 1913 painting “Sonniger Weg” is a German title with means “Sunny Path”. As the title suggests, we see a bright orange path, almost the color of voluptuous flames. The ground makes the whole scene glow allowing us to feel just how sunny it is. 

While two figures on the left are looking over a bridge we see two others approaching the audience. The lower body of these figures melts into the fiery path as if being consumed by it. 

The orange path creates a radiant contrast with a deep blue sky and green trees on the left. The couple looking down the bridge echoes the same colors around them. Macke uses only a handful of different colors that give his work a distinct harmony.

7. Sitzende (1912)

Nude scultpture bronze
Sitzende (1912) By August Macke. CC0.

 During his career, Macke was also interested in sculpting. In all his paintings, the scene is serene and harmonious and the subject is never agitated. Macke made an attempt to convey the same positivity through his sculptures as well. 

Thus, for his 1912 female nude, he tried to give us a feel of the background through the subject. The Sitzende is a bronze sculpture of a young woman.  She sits in a closed posture with her legs crossed while her hands carelessly rest on her body. The woman has dreamy look on her face conveyed through calm and soft lines. Her posture may be likened to a meditative pose.


By the time he was 27 years old, Macke had established a distinctive style that set him apart from his peers. This classical modernist focused on the fun, jovial side of life in his artwork. Within the first ten years of his career, he rose to prominence as a key figure in German expressionism.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Style Were August Macke’s Paintings?

August Macke’s work may be largely categorized as expressionist in style however he explored various other art styles in his career. These styles are namely modern art, fauvism, cubism, and luminism.

How Did August Macke Die?

August Macke decided to enlist himself in the army during World War I. Only a few weeks after his enrolment, he was killed in the war at the age of 27. He died in Champagne, France on the 26th of September, 1914.

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