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Important Art by Franz Marc
Painted not long after he entered the Munich Academy of Art in 1900, Marc's portrait of his mother is an excellent example of his early style, and it shows the influence of the natural realism that predominated at the academy. German realist art typically depicted the lives of ordinary people, and this painting shows Marc's mother, Sophie, as such. 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.
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. His Two Women on the Hillside (1906) is an excellent example of this new stylistic interest. The painting depicts two fellow artists, Maria Schnur and Maria Franck, both of whom would also become his wives at different times. It is one of Marc's first attempts to depict a harmonious relationship between humans and nature, a theme that would only grow stronger over the course of his brief career. Stylistically, the work is a fascinating hybrid of the loose brush strokes and flattened space of the Post-Impressionists and the greater abstraction that artists like Marc and other German expressionists 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. The repetition of lines, a style that would be prevalent in Marc's later work, is evident in the curved outlines of Maria Franck's reclining body, which are echoed by the curve of the hillside directly behind her. This is one of the most visible techniques Marc employs to draw connections between the human body and nature.
After marrying Maria Franck in 1911, Marc painted The Yellow Cow as an homage to their union. 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. Van Gogh used color to represent emotion, but in his paintings identifiable features of the natural world remained. Marc built upon van Gogh's emotional use of color, by using colors to humanize natural forms in the landscape, emphasizing his own interest in pantheism. The large yellow cow represents 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. His repetition of color connects the animals with their background. This is most evident in the small herd of red cows grouped together at the left of the composition; they are camouflaged, blending into the rocky, red landscape around them. Marc also uses color and line repetition with the large yellow cow. The cow dominates the foreground of the dreamlike composition, exuding a mood of blissful serenity as it leaps over the rocky landscape in the foreground. The blue hills in the background echo the shape of the cow's haunches. The repetition of color and line throughout reverberate with a sense of energy as well as safety and happiness.