It was around this time that the artist was starting to find a darker side to the animal kingdom, which he had previously only seen in humanity. The purity of mind is gone, bringing more of a rule-of-the-wild atmosphere to his work.
The Fate of the Animals is an apocalyptic painting, somewhat in the style of Picasso's "Guernica". The picture captures the viewer's attention by creating unease. It is dynamic and chaotic: the trees are inclined/falling, the animals are fleeing/panicking. The strong colours increase the sense of danger.
"The trees show their rings, the animals their veins": this is the subtitle of Franz Marc's famous picture, as if he were trying to lay bare nature herself. The original title is "Tierschicksale", translated in English as "Animal Destinies" or "Fate of the Animals".
Franz Marc was well known for his pictures of animals, but none of them diffused the suggestion of impending doom or ongoing catastrophe as this one does. The Fate of the Animals could be a scene from an earthquake, an approaching fire or a theatre of war. It is not a comfortable picture, yet, like "Guernica", it holds the viewer's gaze in spite of any uneasy feelings it may arouse.
Marc was an expressionist painter, and his work became more abstract after meeting artist Robert Delaunay in 1912. He was fascinated, and influenced, by Delaunay's futuristic method and use of colour, and his work went from expressionism to futurism to abstract, as evidenced in this Fate of the Animals, which he painted in 1913.
Barely two years later, 1915, he found himself carrying a gun rather than a paint-brush. He recognised his painting as being a premonition of something “horrible and shattering”.
In a letter from the front he wrote “I can hardly conceive that I painted it”. On the back of the canvas he had written: “And all being is flaming agony”. One art critic had already noted that the picture reflected the tension of the times, a sense of “impending cataclysm”. Franz Marc's personal tragedy drew to a close during the Battle of Verdun in 1916 when he was struck down by shrapnel.
The Fate of the Animals is Franz Marc's most famous painting. Oil on canvas, 196x266 cms, it currently hangs in the Kunstmuseum, Basel.