Marc immersed himself in the animal kingdom as an antidote to the increasing political tension pervading Germany at the time. Before the war, he saw a beauty in animals and viewed them as a representation of innocence and purity.
His abstract 'Deer in the Forest' wildlife painting, painted before the onset of WWI, depicts several iterations of placid deer nestled within a forest. The stillness of the deer is offset by the large bird captured mid-flight - thought to symbolise the looming threat of war.
Interestingly, Marc kept a tame deer at one of his abodes, and was tragically killed in combat by shrapnel during WWI, adding an additional poignancy to this work.
Marc cited the post-impressionist painter van Gogh as one of his strongest influencers; he admired his vigorous and emotional brushwork style. 'Deer in the Forest' combines the fragmented composition reflective of cubism, with impressionism and symbolism.
It is an excellent example of the type of abstract art utilising bold colours emphasized by 'The Blue Rider' group of which Marc was a founding member, in collaboration with the Russian artist and theorist Wassily Kandinsky.
Marc had studied both theology and philosophy before becoming an artist, and these studies influenced his work substantially. Marc's vivid colour innovations were widely unused at the time, and he developed his own specific use of colour symbolism to raise his paintings to an elevated spiritual plane.
In this painting, the calm tranquillity of the brown deer in the green foreground juxtaposes the foreboding red and black surroundings.
White tree branches contrast against the vibrant full colour spectrum forest backdrop; colour and composition become integrated with his vision of nature.
Sadly, over time, he would come to view animals as ugly creatures as humans. However, this particular painting is suffused with an almost contemplative reverence for the animal kingdom. Marc subsequently executed a second iteration of this concept in his 'Deer in the Forest II', painted in 1914.