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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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Sleeping and Dreaming

Horse Asleep portrays a male horse. In Marc’s palette blue represents masculinity and spirituality. Although asleep, its pose seems awkward, not restful; almost dead. It is surrounded by nature depicted in a cold, geometric manner.

The use of black and red (symbolising violence and brutality) contrasts with the green, which perhaps hints at a place of rest such as grass, earth or light.

Furthermore, the Rayonist influence is visible here in the shape of a “ray” of green, grey and black colours seeming to emanate from the sleeping horse’s chest and directed diagonally towards the upper right corner of the painting.

This rather omnipresent “ray” gives the composition a purposeful clue on how to stroll through the painting to unravel the fact that the horse is not only sleeping, but also dreaming. Thus, the original title in German: Träumendes Pferd (Dreaming Horse).

This painting, with its strong allusion to evading reality through dreaming, gives us perhaps a sense of Marc’s struggle for a desire of peace and tranquillity in what were to become turbulent times.

Franz Marc created Horse Asleep in 1913. The theme is characteristic of his love for animals and nature as are the cubistic and fauvist styles which influenced Marc’s oeuvre.

The symbolic use of colour which he adopted at the beginning of 1911 is persistent here. However, one can notice the red and green colours somewhat subdued compared to the strong blue of the horse. Further, we observe a more futuristic mood in terms of his style in depicting the objects, even the animals, almost bordering the abstract.

This includes the use of sharp angles and straight lines which shape the sleeping horse. This futuristic approach was to be very prominent in Marc’s forthcoming works such as Fate of The Animals, Two Blue Horses and Horse and Dog amongst others.

Horse Asleep seems to be a transitional painting as his change of style appears to embrace some of the feelings of angst and tension endured by Marc as the dreadful prelude of World War One was imminent.