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Franz Marc
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1 painting, 1 book

Wikipedia About Franz Marc

Franz Marc (February 8, 1880 – March 4, 1916) was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of the German Expressionist movement. He was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Franz Marc, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Die grossen blauen Pferde (The Large Blue Horses) (1911) is an acknowledged masterpiece by Franz Marc, a founding member of the avant-garde German group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), which was active in the years just before World War I. One of the chief aims of this small cadre of artists was to make a radically new kind of art that conveyed transcendent, essential truths about the world. They hoped that their work, which incorporated current theories about the transformative power of abstraction, would reinvigorate the viewing public, whose senses had been deadened by the excessive materialism of the age.

Marc believed that animals dwell in a state of complete harmony with nature, and for much of his short career he turned to the natural world—in particular, horses—for his primary subject matter. Beginning in 1910, he used a symbolic color system that equated specific hues with characteristics or concepts. “Blue is the male principle, severe and spiritual,” he wrote to fellow Blaue Reiter artist August Macke in 1910. “Yellow is the female principle, gentle, cheerful, and sensual.”1 These ideas are explored in Die grossen blauen Pferde, in which a triad of horses is built from a series of circles and diagonal lines and rendered in pure blue. The painting was shown in the first Blaue Reiter exhibition, which opened in Munich in 1911, and has since become emblematic of Marc’s style.

Marc died on the front lines during World War I, having volunteered for service in a war that he believed would bring about the spiritual cleansing of Europe. Some twenty years later, in 1937, he was among the artists included in the exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), organized by the National Socialists as an object lesson on the corrupt nature of the avant-garde. In one of his many denunciations of the modern, Hitler—perhaps alluding specifically to Marc—spoke with derision of artists who presented their viewers with “blue meadows, green sky, clouds of sulphur-yellow.”2 Such pictures were unacceptable to the Reich, and therefore “un-German.”

The Walker Art Center’s acquisition of Marc’s famous picture was enmeshed in events surrounding World War II. Final negotiations for the sale took place during the week in 1941 that Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor. Walker officials fretted about the possibility of additional air raids, and took pains to assure their trustees that no proceeds from the sale of the painting would benefit Germany.3 Even so, they were immensely excited about the purchase and understood it to be momentous. “This is a very important acquisition for the collection, and a pioneering move in line with the spirit in which Grandfather originally opened the collection to the public,” wrote Hudson Walker that year.4 Press coverage heralded it as the museum’s “initial step into the realm of modern art” and noted that, in contrast, Marc’s groundbreaking work had been banned in Germany because of Hitler’s retrograde views on the arts.5 At that moment in the United States, an embrace of the avant-garde could also be read as an act of defiance and even patriotism; the acquisition of Die grossen blauen Pferde was promoted as just that sort of enlightened act. At the same time, it was a brilliant advance of the young institution’s mission to pre-sent the most advanced art and design of its time in an open, populist, and educational setting.

  1. Letter dated December 12, 1910, cited in Frederick Levine, The Apocalyptic Vision (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 57. During the same period, Marc’s friend Wassily Kandinsky was exploring the

  2. Quoted in Franz Roh, “Entartete” Kunst: Kunstbarbarei im Dritten Reich (Hannover, Germany: Fackelträger Verlag, 1962), 45. See also Stephanie Barron, “Degenerate Art”: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi

  3. Letters from Hudson Walker (grandson of founder T. B. Walker) to his aunt, Mrs. Gilbert M. (Susan) Walker, December 11, 1941, and from the Walker’s assistant director, J. LeRoy Davidson, to dealer Karl Nierendorf, December 10, 1941 (Walker Art Center Archives).

  4. Letter from Hudson Walker to Mrs. Gilbert M. (Susan) Walker, December 5, 1941 (Walker Art Center Archives).

  5. “Famous Modern Canvas Goes to Minneapolis,” The Art Digest 16 (April 1, 1942): 21.

Rothfuss, Joan. “Franz Marc.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center