Franz Moritz Wilhelm Marc (February 8, 1880 – March 4, 1916) was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of German Expressionism. He was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it.
1 Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1902) Oil on canvas – Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany
This work was painted not long after he entered the Munich Academy of Art in 1900 and is a portrait of the artist’s mother. Painted in profile, she sits in a chair, quietly reading a book. The depiction of Sophie is intimate and quiet and suffused with an almost spiritual dignity. Stylistically, the composition is relatively flat, and makes use of muted colors, traits that were typical of natural realism. As Marc evolved as a painter, his work would move from muted to much bolder colors, and he would continue to depict shallow and flattened spaces. Yet the powerful, spiritual mood of this work also imbued his later works.
2 Two Women on the Hillside (1906) Oil on canvas – Franz Marc Museum, Kochel am See, Germany
After travelling to Paris in 1903, where he studied the works of the Post-Impressionists, Marc’s style started to show a greater interest in color and form, with less attention paid to realism. This work is an excellent example of this new stylistic interest. The painting depicts his fellow artists, Maria Schnur and Maria Franck, both of whom would also become his wives at different times. This is an early attempt to depict a harmonious relationship between humans and nature, a theme that would only grow stronger over the course of his brief career. The work is a fascinating hybrid of the loose brush strokes and flattened space of the Post-Impressionists and the greater abstraction that Marc would explore in the coming years. He used expressive, linear brushstrokes to depict the bodies of the two women, and the landscape is made up only of broad bands of color that only vaguely suggest depth on the flat plane of the canvas.
3. The Yellow Cow (1911) Oil on canvas – Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Marc painted The Yellow Cow as an homage to his marriage in 1911 to Maria Franck. The cow represents the safety and security Marc felt in this, his second, marriage. This composition is an early example of his use of color symbolism, a technique that had been pioneered by van Gogh, and by his friend August Macke. Marc built upon van Gogh’s emotional use of color, by using colors to humanize natural forms in the landscape, with the large yellow cow representing the feminine, since Marc saw the color yellow as evoking feminine emotions. The blue spots on its hide represent the masculine, since he viewed blue as evoking masculine emotions. The combination of the two colors, then, indicates a merging of masculine and feminine, in a reference to his marriage to Franck.
4. Tiger (1912) Oil on canvas – Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany
The calm, dreamlike world of The Yellow Cow, is here replaced with a restless tension. The tiger, whose bodily strength is represented with intersecting shards of color and acute angles, is tightly contained within the bold, black outline. The surrounding space is similarly electrified. Marc depicts the tiger in a moment just before the attack; it is ready to break out of whatever is restraining it. There is a sense of a violent threat. The calmness and security of his earlier work is altogether absent in this work. Marc’s use of Cubist techniques allowed him to create the unmistakable feeling of tension without changing his approach to either color or subject matter. Still, his interest in the greater abstraction of the Cubists marks a distinct artistic departure. Even during such experimentation, Marc never wavered from his interest in bold, primary colors and their potential to convey emotion.
5. Fate of the Animals (1913) – Oil on canvas – Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland
The Fate of the Animals is a vision of annihilation as seen through the eyes of the animals. The sharp angles and jagged shapes of the composition convey Marc’s more jaded view of the relationship between man and nature. The image serves as a premonition of the horrors of war. Indeed, Marc shows the world being utterly ripped apart. This is an apocalyptic vision of the looming war. Despite the chaos and destruction of the work, Marc manages to create a balanced and ordered composition. A blue deer, symbolizing hope, stands in the center foreground, twisting away from the falling tree that threatens to crush it. That Marc chose to place this symbol of hope in the center foreground of the composition, suggests that he himself had a hopeful vision of the future.
6. The Tower of Blue Horses (1913) – Oil on canvas – Missing since 1945
This painting is another example of Marc’s apocalyptic fears. Here, he depicts four blue horses, possibly representing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the book of Revelation. The horses are stacked one above the other which allowed Marc to repeat lines and shapes; the composition is grounded by a vertical line that runs at a diagonal from the right foreleg of the horse in the foreground up to the sky, which the line separates into two distinct areas of yellow and blue. The lack of depth in favor of a vertical arrangement adds to the already tense mood of the painting.
7. Broken Forms (1914) – Oil on canvas – Guggenheim Museum, New York
Broken Forms is one of Marc’s final works and showcases his ultimate move away from representation in painting. After becoming increasingly disillusioned with nature and animals – seeing them as tainted and impure as human beings – Marc sought meaning in the symbolism of color and abstract form. Although this is a break from his earlier direction, Marc’s strong interest in color is still evident in this work, and his signature blues, yellows, and reds, are highlighted.