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Franz Marc (German, 1880–1916)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

German painter. He decided to become a painter in autumn 1900, after initially intending to study philosophy and theology. He began his training at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich under Gabriel von Hackl (1843–1926) and Wilhelm von Dietz (1839–1907) and worked in the style of Munich landscape painting. His early Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1902; Munich, Lenbachhaus) reveals in its form and construction that he already possessed an astonishing mastery of traditional artistic means. From summer 1902 onwards, increasingly self-taught, he worked at Kochel in Upper Bavaria, often on the alpine slopes of the Staffelalm. In May 1903, thanks to his excellent command of French (his Huguenot mother came from Alsace), he accompanied a friend on a study trip to Paris. On his return to Munich he gave up his studies at the Akademie. In his studio in the Kaulbachstrasse he devoted himself primarily to illustrations of poems by Richard Dehmel, Carmen Sylva, Hans Bethge and others, which were published posthumously by Anette von Eckhardt in 1917 in Munich under the title Stella Peregrina.

In spring 1906 Marc accompanied his brother Paul Marc to Greece. His few works from this year are limited to realistic animal and landscape studies. In spring 1907, during another brief trip to Paris, he was deeply impressed by the work of van Gogh and Gauguin as well as by Egyptian and medieval sculpture. For financial reasons, he gave lessons in anatomical drawing. He spent summer 1908 with his future wife, Maria Franck, making nature studies at Lenggries in Bavaria. The painting Larch Sapling (1908; Cologne, Mus. Ludwig) shows for the first time the influence of van Gogh. In Lenggries he developed further his preoccupation with animals, their habits and their characteristic ways of moving: they appeared to him to be of a purer, less corrupt nature than man. He studied horses at pasture for weeks at a time, and cows and deer in the wild, and he sculpted in clay in addition to his graphic and painted efforts. The naturalistic character still dominates the works of this period, even when the surface treatment of the paintings increasingly reveals the stylistic influence of van Gogh. Even the works of the following year spent in Sindelsdorf in Upper Bavaria, such as Oak Sapling (1909; Munich, Lenbachhaus) or Crouching in the Reeds (1909; Münster, Westfäl. Landesmus.), continue to reveal the influence of this artist and culminated in a picture painted at the end of the year, Cats on a Red Cloth (1909–10; Munich, priv. col.), in which extremely intense colour is used for the first time.

In January 1910 Marc was visited by the young painter Auguste Macke and his uncle Bernhard Koehler, who later became patron of them both. A close friendship developed between the two painters. Marc was able to exhibit his work for the first time in February in Brakl’s modern art gallery in the Goethestrasse in Munich. He visited Koehler in Berlin and in July 1910 was given by him a monthly stipend in exchange for an option on his future paintings. Marc then moved to Sindelsdorf in Upper Bavaria, giving up his studio in Munich. In September 1910, fascinated by the second exhibition of the Neue künstlervereinigung münchen (NKVM), he met the painters in this group: Kandinsky, Alexei Jawlenski, Gabriele Münter, Marianne Werefkin and others. Nude with Cat (1910; Munich, Lenbachhaus) shows a new monumentality in its pictorial construction and an intensity of colour reminiscent of the Fauves. Although Marc at first continued producing paintings with a naturalistic palette, such as Grazing Horses I (1910; Munich, Lenbachhaus), his style was changing significantly, for example in Grazing Horses IV (The Red Horses) (1911; formerly Hagen, Folkwang-Museum), a painting that was later impounded as decadent and auctioned in 1939 at the Galerie Fischer, Lucerne.

In February 1911 Marc became a member of NKVM. In May he held his second exhibition at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich’s Theatinerstrasse. Marc’s artistic intentions coincided with Kandinsky’s, with whom he had become friends, both feeling themselves called upon to contribute through their painting to a spiritual renewal of Western culture. They found inspiration in the religious folk art of Upper Bavaria and employed the formal simplicity of its means, particularly that of painting behind glass, in their own endeavours. Working entirely within the tradition of Western religious art, both sought to convey a spiritual message. Marc used animals as symbolic figures and called upon the viewer’s powers of association to disclose his works’ meaning. The problems this posed led to disagreements within NKVM and ultimately to the resignations of Kandinsky and Marc, the two most important members, who then put on their own exhibition in December 1911, with the famous title Der Blaue Reiter; Marc was represented by four pictures. Both painters are listed as editors in the almanac Der Blaue Reiter, which came out in May 1912, and which is recognized as one of the most important artistic manifestos of the 20th century (see Blaue Reiter). In it, contemporary artists articulated in a series of essays the underlying motivations for modern art, and reproductions of their works appeared in the context of illustrations of Western religious art and non-European art. Marc was represented by the essays ‘Geistige Güter’, ‘Die Wilden Deutschlands’ and ‘Zwei Bilder’; a reproduction of his painting The Steer (1911; New York, Guggenheim); and two woodcuts. The continual artistic interchanges while the almanac and the exhibition were in preparation helped to focus and intensify the form and colour of Marc’s work, and increased its expressive power . He sought to reduce the natural multiplicity of detailed forms to an almost geometrical simplicity, as is seen in Yellow Cow (1911; New York, Guggenheim), Small Blue Horses (1911) and Small Yellow Horses (1911; both Stuttgart, Staatsgal.).

In autumn 1912 Marc and Macke visited Robert Delaunay in Paris. This meeting and the confrontation with the intellectual foundations of French Cubism proved to be of immense importance for both. The principle of the transitory condition of all living things and their interpenetration, the simultaneity and inseparability of spirit and matter, is reflected in pictures such as In the Rain (1912), Deer in the Convent Garden (1912; both Munich, Lenbachhaus), and one of Marc’s major works, The Tiger (1912). In this work the figure of the dangerous, cunning animal appears crouching and yet ready to spring in the midst of formal structures whose crystalline construction corresponds to that of the physical presence of the animal. No dualism of any sort between animate and inanimate nature is shown. The indivisibility of all being was the essential spiritual message.

In the summer of 1913 in Sindelsdorf, Marc’s large, major compositions were painted: the Impoverished Land of Tyrol (1913; New York, Guggenheim), Tower of the Blue Horses (1913; ex-Berlin, Neue N.G., lost since 1945), Fate of Animals (1913; Basle, Kstmus.), as well as Mandrill (1913) and Picture with Cattle (1913; both Munich, Staatsgal. Mod. Kst). In all of them the subject stands almost entirely fractured into prismatic structures of various colours. Simultaneously, he produced the first designs for a planned illustrated Bible (to include illustrations by Kandinsky and others), himself undertaking the Book of Genesis.

In autumn 1913 Marc took part in the organization of the first Deutscher Herbstsalon, initiated by Herwarth Walden in Berlin. In early 1914 he moved from Sindelsdorf to a house in Ried, near Benediktbeuern and, at the prompting of Hugo Ball, occupied himself briefly with ideas for a staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest that nevertheless failed to come to fruition. In the few months before the outbreak of World War I, the last large, almost completely non-objective compositions were made, such as Birds (1914; Munich, Lenbachhaus), Playing Forms (1914; Essen, Mus. Flkwang) or Fighting Forms (1914; Munich, Staatsgal. Mod. Kst), all of them reflecting a search for metaphysical regularities. On the outbreak of war Marc registered as a volunteer. His letters from the front and his sketchbook, the only pictorial expression of this period, were published under the title Franz Marc, Briefe, Aufzeichnungen, und Aphorismen by Paul Cassirer in 1920. Marc was killed near Verdun.

Rosel Gollek
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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