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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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A keen member of The Expressionists movement, Franz Marc had a special liking to animals

A lot of his paintings revolved around animals, blending the subject ingeniously with his signature style of cubism. And as usual, he always used animals and colours to portray a specific message in his artworks.

The Monkey Painting, otherwise known as Monkey Frieze, is another heartfelt Expressionists pieces that depicted animals in their presence. He painted this masterpiece in 1911 depicting a troop of monkeys crossing what seems to be a forest encompassed by mountains on the background.

The use of cubism is subtle here, almost non-existence, as if the painter wanted the focus to be on the innocence of the apes as they go about their journey.

Franz used colour as a medium of expression to create different moods in his paintings. In the monkey painting, Franz uses blue and yellow tones on the foreground and generously on the middle ground where the monkeys form the subject. Blue always depicted masculinity or divinity while yellow was a symbol of femininity or a gentle nature.

The background shows red mountain slopes, perhaps a harsh arid area the monkeys are moving away from or don’t think of exploring. At least that would explain why all the monkeys have their faces pointed forward towards the destination they wish to reach.

Like all other works of art, interpretation is often left to the hands of the viewer, with the above being one way to look at it. Franz Marc had a second painting of monkeys which he had painted earlier in 1906. This one he named Monkeys on a Cart and is laden with metaphors yearning to be deciphered. The monkeys are seated on the cart, faintly painted to almost look like humans or maybe to personify mankind given the trousers the monkeys are wearing.