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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Follow the influential path of this famous German expressionist

Franz Marc is a prolific and widely celebrated German painter and printmaker who was born in 1880 in the German city of Munich.

He is perhaps best known for his very colourful and stirring paintings of animals that are created in the expressionist style.

These paintings are acclaimed by art critics for their intense mysticism and Franz Marc is also known for being one of the founding members of Der Blaue Reiter, which is a society of German Expressionist artists that was established in Germany.

These days, Franz Marc is often considered one of the most pivotal figures in the German Expressionist movement and he helped to popularise the movement during his lifetime both through his artwork and the articles that were published in the art magazine that he founded and ran.

The Early Years

Franz Marc’s father was a landscape painter and his work influenced his son from a very early age. In the year 1900, when he was just twenty years old, Franz Marc became a student of the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and received instruction from a number of the city’s leading and most influential art teachers.

Developing the Artistic Style

Although Marc’s early works of art were painted in a rather academic and naturalistic style, in 1903 he discovered French Impressionistic painting. His love for this newfound style drove him to adopt a more modern approach to painting, which can clearly be seen in his now signature vivid lines and simplified colours.

Fascination with the Greek

In 1906 Franz Marc travelled to Greece with his brother Paul, where he visited many of the most famous landmarks such as Mount Athos. He was very taken with the structure of many of the monuments that he saw as well as the dramatic nature of the landscape, which featured prominently in many of his works of art from this period.

Travelling to Paris

In 1907 Franz Marc took a trip to Paris, where he first encountered the work of Vincent van Gogh.

Marc was inspired and influenced by the emotional and vigorous brushwork of this Post-Impressionist painter and from this point on his work took a distinctly different turn, which can perhaps be seen in the painting Cats on Red Cloth, which was created from 1909 to 1910.

During his time in Paris, Franz Marc spent a lot of time visiting Parisian museums and art galleries as well as meeting local artists. He largely developed his own style by copying the styles of the artists who inspired him and adding his own unique flourishes.

The work of Franz Marc from this period can be seen to be mainly the classic Parisian style of the era, while many of his works of art were also inspired by his surroundings.

Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky

Marc met Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky in 1910 and he introduced him to the Expressionist artist group Neue Künstlervereinigung, which means the New Artists Association in English.

In 1991 Franz Marc joined the Neue Künstlervereinigung and began working closely with fellow member August Macke, who was a young painter whose distinctive use of large areas of vivid colour inspired Marc to begin experimenting with this style.

The Formation of Der Blaue Reiter

In 1911 both Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky left the Neue Künstlervereinigung in order to establish their own rival group of artists that they named Der Blaue Reiter.

At around the same time the pair also established and began editing an art journey of the same name.

Der Blaue Reiter was dedicated to depicting the works of new artists as well as new art styles that were slowly starting to become more prominent and accepted in Germany as well as other parts of the world.

The journal also hosted an exhibition that served to showcase many of the works of art that Franz Marc created in 1911 and 1912. Auguste Macke, who Marc had met in 1910, also joined Der Blaue Reiter and was very active in shaping the style and message of the journal.

Kandinsky had the idea that art should be used to reveal the spiritual core of natural forms rather than simply copying and reproducing their visual appearance.

By working closely together on various art projects, Kandinsky and Marc gradually began to develop the concept that mystical energy can be revealed to full effect through the technique of abstraction.

Franz Marc mainly chose animals as his subject as he thought that this would be a much purer means to get his message across. He also occasionally adopted the mentally ill and children as his subjects.

Philosophy and the Large Blue Horses

The painting titled the Large Blue Horses was created by Franz Marc in 1911 and is perhaps one of the clearest examples of his artistic philosophy.

This work features the powerful and simply lines combined with the rounded outlines that form the horses that Marc is now famous for. He chose these simple lines and forms to echo the rhythms of the landscape in the background that he used to unite the animals and their setting.

Despite the fact that the painting looks rather simple at first glance, it is actually packed with symbolism and uses bold blue, red and yellow colours to represent specific emotional states.

People who are familiar with Marc’s style can gain a clear insight into his message and his response to nature simply by noting the ways in which colour have been used in the painting and where he chose to use it.

In the Large Blue Horses, we can see that the horses are formed in a semi-circular arrangement with each of the horses pointing towards the left.

It should be noted that the group of horses is a little awkward and bulky because they are depicted bunched together in a constricted area that is completely blue.

The horses are integrated into the hilly landscape and encircled by two white lines.

As Marc revealed in his articles that were published in Der Blaue Reiter, the horses represent breakthrough and blue has been chosen to represent spirituality in relation to materialism.

The horses are shown without riders to show their supremacy over humans and it is believed that three horses have been chosen rather than four that were often seen in Marc’s earlier works to represent the apocalypse.

The Definitive Style

Franz Marc created more than sixty works of art during his short but very productive artistic career.

In addition to the very colourful paintings that art lovers around the world are familiar with, Marc also used woodcut and lithography to express his artistic vision.

Despite the lack of colour that these mediums provide, the works from this collection still feature animals in natural settings and clearly portray Marc’s artistic vision.

In addition to the bright and bold colours that were used in the majority of his paintings, Franz Marc also adopted a Cubist approach for the portrayal of his animals.

Other key features of this very striking and distinctive style include the simplicity of both the subjects and the landscape and the harmony between these two main elements.

A Turn for the Abstract

Franz Marc had a deep admiration for the works of French painter Robert Delaunay as well as a number of Italian Futurists who he had met during his travels.

This was reflected in 1912 by the increasingly abstract nature of Marc’s work. One of the clearest and most vivid examples of this is the painting entitled Tyrol, which was created in 1914 just before he joined the army.

Joining the Futurist Movement

Franz Marc met Robert Delaunay in 1912, who was becoming celebrated in artistic circles for his use of distinct colour and design methods in a type futuristic manner that was quite new at the time.

As a result of the new friendship, Marc became captivated by the futuristic style along with Cubism and started to try and fuse the two styles to form something that was uncompromisingly vivid and charged with emotion.

1912 was one of the most productive years of his artistic career to date and his series of works show the deepening of his sensitivities toward the abstract style. Among the new features of his work were increased boldness of colour, rather sharp angles and stark landscaped that were extremely advanced for this period.

Meaning Behind the Colours

While the colours that were used in Marc’s works were certainly striking, in fact each and every colour was chosen for the meaning behind it.

In the world of Franz Marc blue was masculine and spiritual, while white and other light colours such as yellow were used to represent joy and femininity. Like many painters of the time, he saw red as being a violent colour and used it to provide his work with a tone of violence or conflict.

Life at War

In 1914 WWI hit Germany and Franz Marc joined the German army. Needless to say, he was unable to complete any great works of art during this time and in fact the paintings that portray the turn for the abstract reflect the final realisation of an ever developing style.

Franz Marc was killed in combat just two years after enlisting in the army while his artwork was still mainly unknown to the world at large.

Oppression of Art

In the 1930s the Nazis in power at the time took a severe dislike to Marc’s work and removed around 130 pieces from various art shows and exhibitions throughout Germany.

They were later returned at the end of WWII and the name of Franz Marc as well as his artistic style and vision was promoted by fellow artists so that the people of Germany and the rest of the world could share his vision.

Death of an Artistic Genius

Franz Marc died on March 4th, 1916 near Verdun in France. Although he was just 36 years old when he died, Marc had already created an extensive collection of very influential works of art, many of which were considered to be far ahead of their time.

Many of these pieces caused controversy in Germany when they became known by the public at large, although among fellow artists they were hailed for their strong designs, colours and unique images.

Many of these works went on to pave the way for following artistic movements such as Cubism and Fauvism that were able to unite the key aspects of subject and concept.

Among the artists who were influenced and inspired by the work of Franz Marc and his fellow artists in conjunction with Der Blaue Reiter include Piet Mondrian and Marc Chagall and later celebrated American Abstract Expressionists such as Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock.

Today, a century after his death, Franz Marc is considered to be one of Germany’s most influential painters due to his unique style combined with a highly creative approach and the ability to transform the ordinary into something extraordinary.