Horse in a Landscape, 1910, oil on canvas

Horses Resting, color woodcut, 1911-1912, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

The Tower of Blue Horses, 1913, oil on canvas

It’s easy to see that Franz Marc loved horses as much as he loved creating art.

One of the leading figures in the German Expressionist movement, Marc believed in what he called the “animalization” of art.  In his opinion, animals had the unique ability to represent aspects of the spirit.

Franz Marc enrolled in the Munich Art Academy in 1900, and from 1910 onwards, animals became his favorite subject matter.  In 1911, along with Wassily Kandinsky, Marc co-founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, which was devoted to the cause of art which possessed a spiritual dimension.

For Marc, color captured spirit, as did the animals it embodied.  He associated the color blue with masculinity and the colors of red and yellow with femininity (so we can imagine the stallions, the mare, and perhaps a bachelor herd, in the works of art above).

Marc believed that animals were more pure and more beautiful than mankind, a sentiment shared by horse lovers everywhere.  His outlook became jaundiced with an impending war, and we can see the change in this canvas:

The Fate of the Animals, oil on canvas, 1913, Kunstmuseum, Basle

Marc was no longer able to see the beauty in the animals he had once idealized.  In his final works, it is difficult to identify any animals at all.  There is only abstraction, for ugliness had overtaken the world, and overtaken the purity of spirit that he was once able to envision.

In 1914, Franz Marc volunteered for military service in Germany and was killed in action when a shell splinter struck his head, at the age of 36.  The beauty of his horses, even as they grapple with a world gripped by ugliness, lives on for us to enjoy, and through which, to remember him.

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