Breakfast of the Birds

Gabriele Münter’s “Breakfast of the Birds” (1934) has long been one of my favorite paintings and I like it to visit it in person whenever I am in Washington DC at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Right now, I feel so much like the woman in the painting: looking out at the world, watching, waiting, wishing, wondering…

Today, for the first time, I wonder: Why is the title “Breakfast of the Birds” instead of “Breakfast with the Birds.” What do you think?

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 that frame the window add an element of cosiness 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.”

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