Born on 8 February 1880, Franz Moritz Wilhelm Marc grew up in Munich, Germany.
His father (Wilhelm) worked as a landscape painter. Consequently, his father encouraged the young Franz Marc to take up painting.
Initially, Marc wanted to study theology like his brother, Paul. However, Marc entered an arts program at Munich University in 1899.
In 1900 Marc began his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In 1903 (and again in 1907), Marc went to France. He mostly stayed in Paris, where he studied in museums and copied the various Old Master paintings on display. Franz Marc particularly admired the work of modern painters as well, most noticeably Van Gogh.
The influence of Van Gogh’s post-impressionist color and expressive brushstrokes is apparent in Franz Marc’s mature work.
During his first visit to Paris in 1903, Marc studied modern and impressionist paintings for six months. During this time, he also met the French painter Jean Niestle. Famed for his animal paintings, Niestle was revolutionary. This meeting influenced the young Franz Marc, whose subjects quickly shifted to animal art.
Early Franz Marc paintings depict animals. While he experimented with Impressionism and Pointillism early in his career, he instead turned towards the full and expressive use of color pioneered by the Fauvist artists.
Marc focused on vivid colors and intense compositions. He consistently displayed the connection between man, nature, and the eternal in his art.
Returning to Munich, Marc spent a long time studying the anatomy of animals. While living in Berlin, he visited the Berlin Zoo on many occasions. Here, Marc studied and sketched animals from as many angles as possible.
As Marc’s style progressed, animals overtook human and natural forms. For Marc, animals were the ideal subject matter to show truth, beauty, and purity. Marc further believed horses perfectly symbolized strength and innocence.
In 1910, Marc made a meaningful friendship with the painter August Macke. As a German Expressionist painter, he also played a leading role in Der Blaue Reiter group. That same year, Franz Marc painted works such as Nude with a Cat and Grazing Horses, Red Horses. Both were produced for the New Artists Association (the Neue Künstlervereinigung München, NKVM) and debuted at the Thannhauser Galleries in Munich.
By early 1911, Marc developed a highly personal color symbolism. Created alongside August Macke and building on the thought of Wassily Kandinsky, blue was the overarching principle. It was a masculine color of spiritualism, intellectualism, and the infinite. The same year Marc completed one of our most famous art reproductions, Large Blue Horses.
Yellow represented femininity; gentle, happy, and sensual. On the other hand, red was heavy and brutal. For Marc, using lots of red in a painting could easily oppose and overcome different colors.
This color theory appears in Franz Marc Yellow Cow (painted 1911). The leaping yellow cow (a symbol of femininity) could be a veiled reference to Marc’s finance, Maria Franck. The couple married in 1911.
In this reading, the triangular blue mountains form an abstract self-portrait. Thus, Yellow Cow is one of the most unusual wedding portraits ever produced.
Franz Marc contributed to Der Blaue Reiter group. Translated as The Blue Rider art movement, it was an important off-shoot of German Expressionism. Alongside Macke, Kandinsky, Marianne von Werefkin, and Alexej von Jawlensky, these artists rejected the stricter approach of the NKVM.
Marc also met the cubist and futurist painter Robert Delaunay. Delaunay proved another influential force in Marc’s work. His geometric forms and dynamic approach are evident in Marc’s The Tiger and Red Deer II (1912). This cubist approach also appears in paintings of the following year, including The Tower of Blue Horses, Fate of the Animals, and Franz Marc The Fox.
The Fate of the Animals is a remarkably prescient view of the horrors of World War One, about to engulf the entirety of European society. Later damaged in a warehouse fire in 1916, Marc’s friend Paul Klee repaired the work.
\With war imminent, Marc moved towards near-complete abstraction. He created heavily atmospheric works such as Fighting Forms and Broken Forms (1914).
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Franz Marc joined the Imperial German Army. Initially working as a cavalryman, he soon transferred to military camouflage due to his artistic talents. By 1916, Marc helped hide guns and artillery under large canvas sheets.
He painted these in pointillist styles ranging from “Manet to Kandinsky.” Marc took great pleasure in this work, feeling the Russian suprematist style was best suited for the job. Indeed, this predates the geometric “dazzle” painting techniques, first used by the British artist Normal Wilkinson in 1917.
In 1916, the German government decreed that famous artists like Franz Marc leave front-line military service. Although an order came to remove Marc from combat, the instructions arrived too late. A mortar round struck Marc at the Battle of Verdun. Sadly, he died instantly from a shell splinter. Franz Marc passed away on 4 March 1916 (aged 36) in Braquis, France.
Franz Marc was a pioneering artist and leading figure in German Expressionism. Alongside figures such as Kandinsky, he redefined art towards more abstract and spiritual concerns.
His transition away from figurative forms to increased abstraction led the way forward for future generations of painters. In addition, Marc’s vivid and dynamic color influenced artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, as well as Color Field artists such as Mark Rothko.
The Nazi party in Germany suppressed modern art. From 1936 and 1937, the Nazis condemned many artists, including Franz Marc, as “degenerative.” His paintings were removed from museums and often disappeared or were destroyed.
During the Nazi degenerative art purge, around 130 Franz Marc artworks left German collections. His famous painting Blue Horse went to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Liege, France. Other works, such as Landscape with Horses, were only re-discovered in 2012.
This painting appeared alongside over a thousand other images in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt. His father, Cornelius Hildebrand, served as one of Hitler’s four official art dealers. In 2017, the family of Kurt Grawi demanded the restitution of Marc’s painting The Foxes. from the Kunstpalast Museum in Dusseldorf. The Nazis had previously confiscated the painting from Grawi.
In 2021 The German Advisory Commission ruled the return of the painting to the Grawi family. Franc Marc Foxes was sold in 2022, setting an auction record by selling for a staggering £42.6 million; this price exceeded Marc’s Grazing Horses III, which sold in 2008 for just over £12 million. The Franz Marc Museum in Bavaria holds some 150 of his paintings.
Franz Marc paintings almost always used oil paint on canvas. He painted in an accessible, expressive manner with long, sweeping lines creating contours and forms.
While Marc’s early paintings used a naturalistic and highly academic painting, he soon switched to more expressive forms. This change came after seeing impressionist art in Paris in 1903. At this point, his color theory progressed, and the interplay of color and form was crucial for Franz Marc painting.
In later years Marc adopted futurist and cubist techniques with sharp angles and geometric lines. The result was oil paintings created with violent and chaotic shapes as exampled in The Fox.
If you love the colorful beauty and energy of Franz Marc paintings, explore our extensive catalog of oil painting reproductions. From famous oil paintings such as Franc Marc Blue Horse to lesser-known works from his early career, you’ll find art to enrich your life and your walls.
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