Progression of Art
Portrait of the Artist's Mother
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.
Oil on canvas - Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany
Two Women on the Hillside
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.
Oil on canvas - Franz Marc Museum, Kochel am See, Germany
The Yellow Cow
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.
Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
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 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.
Oil on canvas - Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany
Fate of the Animals
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. Fantasy is still an important feature in this work, but in this case the fantasy has turned dark and foreboding. Fires rain down from above and fallen trees jut out of the still hot embers of the underbrush. All of the animals are panicked, their faces and bodies contorted to express the terror of trying to escape their inescapable demise. Ultimately, 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. What's more, the fact that Marc borrowed from the Futurists in his painting style suggests that he had a positive view of the destruction he depicted. Since destruction was a necessary step before society could be rebuilt, this powerful image could be read as not only tragedy and decimation, but as progress.
Oil on canvas - Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland
The Tower of Blue Horses
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, on an ascending, vertical plane, eschewing depth altogether. The stacking of the horses on top of one another also allowed Marc to repeat lines and shapes, which was a hallmark of his style. 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 strong vertical line enhances the verticality of the composition, in which the horses appear to be stacked on top of one another rather than receding back into space and in which the rocky landscape at the left is similarly stacked. The lack of depth in favor of a vertical arrangement adds to the already tense mood of the painting. As if this weren't enough, Marc adorns the chest of the foreground horse with a crescent moon - a symbol commonly used by the German Expressionists to represent their longing for the apocalypse, which would provide a chance for the world to cleanse itself and start anew. These Expressionists saw the coming war as an opportunity for positive change. This perhaps explains Marc's use of the color blue, which symbolized hope, in the image. For him the apocalypse was not just about destruction so much as the promise of a new world.
Oil on canvas - Missing since 1945
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 solace and 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. It also reveals Marc's continued interest in representing emotions, especially as they relate to the anxiety of the coming war. The painting is one of a series of four that Marc painted in 1914, the other three works being Cheerful Forms (now destroyed), Playing Forms, and Forms in Combat. While representational forms can be interpreted from these works, especially with the help of their titles, they are ultimately free from earthly narrative, allowing Marc to depict the spiritual world he had so long sought to represent via animals in his earlier paintings.
Oil on canvas - Guggenheim Museum, New York