Franz Marc Large Blue Horses is one of the artist's most famous animal oil paintings.
The painting depicts three striding blue horses set against a kaleidoscopic, shifting background; Franz Marc’s unique creation now hangs in the Walker Art Center, Minnesota, USA.
Measuring over 105 by 180 centimeters, it’s an imposing piece.
Franz Marc's The Large Blue Horses is a masterpiece of expressionist art. Known in German as Die Grossen Blauen Pferde and painted in 1911, it’s one of Franz Marc’s most famous artworks.
1911 also marked the foundation of the iconic Der Blaue Reiter artist group. Instigated by several leading German and Russian expressionist artists, the movement was short-lived but incredibly influential. Members included illustrious names such as Wassily Kandinsky, Alexej von Jawlensky, Paul Klee, August Macke, and Franz Marc.
Named after a Wassily Kandinsky painting (created in 1903), Der Blaue Reiter also represented Franz Marc’s enduring love for horses and the color blue.
For the two artists, blue was the color of spirituality. The darker the shade, the more it awakened human connections with the eternal and the intellectual.
Even amongst Franz Marc's paintings, Large Blue Horses is mainly symbolic. It represents our deepest desires for unity with nature and eternity.
The painting depicts three brightly colored blue horses in front of a rolling red landscape. The entire painting is full of vibrant primary colors and simple forms, which provide a profound sense of emotion. The disparate elements of the painting appear to unite into a vigorous yet harmonious whole.
While the curved lines build a sense of peace and balance, the psychological intensity of the artwork increases with an expressive red background. For Marc, red represented violence and base emotions. The way the hills threaten the unaware blue horses' hints at an ominous atmosphere just below (or above) the surface
The exact meaning of Large Blue Horses remains a mystery, however. The art historian Gabi La Cava argues that “the feeling” evoked is the most critical aspect of Franz Marc’s art. Each viewer creates their emotional resonance with the painting.
Franz Marc loved painting animals, particularly horses. He felt the innocence of animals allowed him to develop his spirituality and become closer to God. In 1915, Franz Marc commented that animals possessed a “virginal sense of life.” This sense awakened “all that was good” in him.
In addition, Marc’s detailed color theory dictated his representations of animals. For example, he believed blue was a powerful and masculine color (hence the choice of Large Blue Horses). On the other hand, yellow represents more feminine qualities.
Further evidence is provided in paintings such as Yellow Cow by Franz Marc, known in German as Gelbe Kuh. Marc described yellow as “gentle, cheerful and sensual” in direct opposition to blue as “spiritual and intellectual.”
In this instance, the yellow cow could be a hidden reference to Marc’s lover and muse, Maria Franck. The couple married in 1911. In this interpretation, the triangular blue mountains become Marc’s abstract self-portrait; and a rather unusual wedding picture.
Marc returned to the theme of blue horses repeatedly throughout his career. While Large Blue Horses is one of the artist’s most essential depictions of animals, paintings such as Little Blue Horses (1911) and Tower of Blue Horses (1913) reflect similar compositional devices.
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