Large Blue Horses is one of the most famous animal oil paintings on canvas of all time.
Depicting three striding blue horses set against a kaleidoscopic, shifting background, Franz Marc’s astounding creation now hangs in the Walker Art Center, Minnesota, USA.
Measuring at over 105 by 180 centimeters, it’s an imposing and impressive piece.
Franz Marc 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 paintings, Large Blue Horses is particularly 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. This provides a profound sense of emotion, with the disparate elements appearing to unite into a vigorous yet harmonious whole
Whilst the curved lines build a sense of peace and balance, the psychological intensity of the artwork increases with the 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 “the feeling” evoked is the most important aspect of Franz Marc’s art. Each viewer creates their own emotional resonance with the painting.
Franz Marc loved painting animals, particularly horses. He felt the innocence of animals allowed him to develop his own spirituality and become closer to God. Writing 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. He believed blue was a powerful and masculine color (hence the choice in Large Blue Horses). On the other hand, yellow represents more feminine qualities.
This is further evidenced in creations 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 own abstract self-portrait; and a rather unusual wedding picture.
Marc returned to the theme of blue horses repeatedly throughout his career. Whilst Large Blue Horses is one of the artist’s most important depictions of animals, paintings such as Little Blue Horses (1911) and Tower of Blue Horses (1913) reflect similar compositional devices.
Museum quality oil painting reproductions of Franc Marc paintings are available in many size options.
Franz Marc was born in Munich, in 1880, at that time in the Kingdom of Bavaria, but now the capital of Germany.
His father Wilhelm was a landscape painter and the young Franz Marc was encouraged to take up painting by his father and then encouraged to become a professional painter. Initially, Marc had wanted to study theology like his brother, Paul. However, Marc entered an arts program at Munich University in 1899, but had to complete a year of military service first.
In 1900 Marc began his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In 1903 and then in 1907 Marc went to France, and stayed most of the time in Paris where he studied in museums and copied many of the paintings he saw, a very traditional method for a young aspiring artist to develop his own style.
During his first visit to Paris in 1903, Marc spent six months studying Modern and Impressionist paintings where he met the French painter Jean Niestle, who was famous for his animal paintings. This meeting clearly influenced the young Franz Marc, whose most famous paintings are of animals.
Marc’s earliest paintings were also of animals, as early as 1905, and on his return to Paris in 1907, Marc spent time studying the works of Vincent van Gogh. He mixed with other artists and met also the actress Sarah Bernhardt.
In the following year Marc experimented with Impressionism and Pointillism, but found that these styles did not help him to achieve what he wanted in his own work. He wanted a strong use of color and so turned to the vivid use of color by the Fauve artists, and was able to use these strong colors to depict the connection between man and nature.
On his return to Munich, Marc spend a considerable period studying the anatomy of animals and when living in Berlin, visited the Berlin Zoo on numerous occasions to study and sketch the animals he saw from as many different angles as he could. Indeed, as his style progressed, animals overtook human form in his subject matter and for Marc; animals represented the ideal subject matter to show truth, beauty and purity.
In 1910 Marc made an important friendship with the painter August Macke, and painted Nude with a Cat, and Grazing Horses, both for the New Artists Association, and displayed at the Thannhauser Galleries in Munich.
His friendship with Macke produced a color theory of his own that used blue as the male principle, yellow as the female principle, being gentle, happy and sensual, and red as heavy and brutal, which by its use could be opposed to and overcome the other colors.
A pivotal moment in Marc’s life came in 1911, when he founded a magazine, Der Blaue Reiter, the Blue Rider, which became an art movement, a main branch of the German Expressionist Movement, formed with August Macke and the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, recognized as the pioneer of Abstract Art. Marc also met the Cubist and later the Futurist painter Robert Delaunay, who was very influential in Marc’s work, painting The Tiger and Red Deer in 1912, and The Tower of Blue Horses, Foxes, and Fate of the Animals in 1913.
After these paintings and with a war imminent, marc moved towards complete abstraction, painting Cheerful Forms, Playing Forms, Forms in Combat, and finally Broken Forms.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Franz Marc was drafted into the Imperial German Army, as a cavalryman, but by 1916 his abilities as an artist were used by his commanders who moved him to work in military camouflage, hiding guns and artillery in general under large canvas sheets that were painted by Marc in a Pointillist style, hiding the guns from aircraft surveillance. He painted nine of these canvas sheets, in styles that he called “from Manet to Kandinsky”, and was very proud of his achievements.
In 1916 the German government decided that famous artists like Franz Marc should be removed from military service on the front lines and although an order had been issued to get Marc away from the combat zone he was in, the order arrived too late and Marc was killed by a mortar round at the battle of Verdun.
Franz Marc’s legacy as an artist and leading figure in German Expressionism, was to redefine the nature of art to a more abstract and spiritual level, viewing the world through the eyes of animals. His move from representational forms to pure abstraction led the way forward for future generations of painters and his use of bright colors to achieve emotions and a sense of spiritualism have influenced artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, as well as the color field artists, notably Mark Rothko.
After the National Socialists took over the Government of Germany, later becoming the Nazi party, modern art was suppressed and from 1936 and 1937, many artists, including Franz Marc were condemned as degenerative artists and their painting removed from museums. Marc had some 130 works removed, and his painting Blue Horses was sold to the Musee des Beaux Arts in Liege, France, while Landscape with Horses was found in 2012, along with over one thousand other paintings, in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father Hildebrand was one of Hitler’s four official art dealers.
More recently in 2017, the family of Kurt Grawi demanded the restitution of Marc’s painting The Foxes, which had found its way to the Kunstpalast Museum in Dusseldorf after being confiscated from Grawi who had owned the painting before the Nazis came to power. The German Advisory Commission ruled in 2021 that the painting should be returned to the Grawi family.
The Franz Marc Museum in Bavaria is dedicated to the works of Marc and holds some 150 of his paintings and works by his contemporaries including Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Beckmann, Gabriele Munter and Alexej von Jawlensky.
Franz Marc’s most expensive painting sold at auction was in London in 2008 at Sotheby’s when $24 million was paid by a private Russian buyer for Weidende Pferde 111, Grazing Horses 111. This was a record price achieved by any artist in 2008 for a Modern or Impressionist work, and is the only example of Marc’s horse paintings remaining in private hands.
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