Franz Marc: Biography & Paintings

Instructor: Holly Hunt

Holly has master's degrees in history and writing, as well as an extensive background in art history.

Franz Marc (1880-1916) was a German Expressionist painter best known for his brightly colored paintings of animals and deeply personal symbolism. His career came to a premature end when he was killed in combat in World War I.

Early Life

Franz Marc was born in Munich on February 8, 1880. He intended to study philosophy and theology when he entered university in 1899, but soon turned to the study of art. However, he never lost his interest in spirituality and the search for meaning, and his belief that nature could serve as a source of renewal. His artistic education took him to Paris, where he saw the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, a departure from the conservative style he was learning at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. The work of Vincent Van Gogh had the greatest impact on Marc - not surprising, as Van Gogh is considered one of the major forerunners of Expressionist art. Like many other German artists of his generation, he was also eager to experiment with Cubism and other forms of abstraction.

Franz Marc, Deer in the Woods II, 1912.
Franz Marc, Deer in the Woods II, 1912

Der Blaue Reiter

Marc and Russian-born artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) founded the short-lived but influential group known as Der Blaue Reiter - 'the Blue Rider', in Munich in 1911. The name of the group may have come from a painting Kandinsky made in 1903. The color blue and the image of the horse carried a special meaning for both of them. In the group's almanac, they championed art made by children, folk art, 'primitive' art of both the past and present, and other examples of what is now called outsider art. They felt that these forms of art were a more authentic means of expression than 'civilized' art.

Cover of Der Blaue Reiter Almanach, 1912.
Cover of Der Blaue Reiter Almanac

The artists of Der Blaue Reiter rejected rule-bound academic art, and forged a more intuitive, emotional approach to painting. They wanted their art to be infused with spiritual meaning. In terms of style, they drew on French modernism, especially Cubism. Marc's own work often featured animals - symbols of the natural world - painted in bright colors according to the private meaning they held for him. The members of the Blaue Reiter looked to art as a source of spiritual renewal for a Europe they saw as worn out, decadent, and estranged from the natural world. But the group, though prolific, only lasted for three years until the outbreak of the First World War.

Color and Animal Motifs

Franz Marc, The Yellow Cow, 1911.
Franz Marc, The Yellow Cow

Franz Marc's best known works are his paintings of animals. In true Expressionist fashion, his chose his colors based on the feelings he wanted to evoke, and on what they symbolized to him. He once told Macke that blue represented the spirit of masculinity, yellow the spirit of femininity, and red the material world. Marc's painting The Yellow Cow (1911), has been interpreted as reflecting his joy over marrying Maria Franck, his second wife. The cow's yellow color makes it a symbol of femininity.

Franz Marc, Dreaming Horse, 1913.
Franz Marc, Dreaming Horse

Marc had observed and drawn animals since he was young. In his mature work, he used a semi-abstract style influenced by Cubism to emphasize their essential qualities. Animals represented the sacred for him in a way that people did not. As part of nature, they embodied forces which he felt humans had lost touch with. His most famous works are his numerous paintings of blue horses.

Franz Marc, The Fate of the Animals, 1913.
Franz Marc, Fate of the Animals

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