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Provenance Research Project Franz Marc The Large Blue Horses

  • Franz Marc
  • German, 1880-1916
  • Die grossen blauen Pferde (The Large Blue Horses), 1911
  • oil on canvas
  • 41 5/8 x 71 5/16 in. (105.73 x 181.13 cm)
  • Gift of the T.B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund, 1942
  • 1942.1

December 18, 1911—January 1, 1912

Included in the “First Exhibition organized by the Editorial Board of Der Blaue Reiter” at Galerie Thannhauser, Munich.[1]

1919

Sold by J.E. Wolfensberger, Zurich to F.J. Weck of Gut Katzensee, Regensdorf, Zurich.[2]

1936

Listed as “whereabouts unknown” in the Marc catalogue raisonné compiled by Alois Schardt with assistance from Marc’s widow, Maria Marc.

July 1938

Included in “Exhibition of Twentieth Century German Art” at the New Burlington Galleries in London.[3]

1939—40

Included in a smaller selection of work from the New Burlington Galleries exhibition which toured the United States under the title “Twentieth Century Banned German Art.”[4]

By December 1940

Nierendorf Gallery in New York City.[5]

December 1941

Purchased by Mrs. Gilbert M. Walker for the Walker Art Center on behalf the T.B.
Walker Foundation.[6]

Footnotes

  1. A notation by the artist in his Werkbuch (notebook), transcribed by Marc scholar Klaus Lankheit, reveals that the painting was sold from this exhibition to a Dr. Glaser, Berlin. In a letter dated July 31, 1963 to Walker Art Center curator Jan van der Marck, Lankheit speculates that Glaser was a well-known art historian in Berlin. [Walker Art Center registrar’s object file]

  2. There are two possible explanations for how The Large Blue Horses came, by 1919, into the possession of lithographer J.E. Wolfensberger of Zurich. Whether Wolfensberger purchased the painting directly from Maria Marc along with the reproduction rights (as Jan van der Marck describes in a report on a meeting with Wolfensberger’s son and grandson which took place in December 19, 1962 [report in the Walker Art Center registrar’s object file], or whether he purchased the painting from an unidentified gallery in Berlin in 1916 [as a letter dated July 31, 1963 in the Walker Art Center registrar’s object file from Klaus Lankheit to Jan van der Marck indicates] is unclear. Neither explanation sheds light on how the painting left Dr. Glaser’s collection. In any case, Wolfensberger did in fact own the painting by 1919 and created high quality, widely-circulated reproductions of the painting.

    F.J. Weck appears to have continuously had possession of the painting at least up to the time it is known to have left Switzerland in 1938. This assumption is based on a letter dated November 15, 1947 [Walker Art Center registrar’s object file] from Wolfensberger to the Walker Art Center in which he describes borrowing the painting back from the owner in order to make a new lithograph in 1925.

  3. A reproduction of the painting is on the cover of the exhibition catalogue, which lists the painting as #168 The Blue Horses. It is noted as belonging to a private collector (possibly Weck, but not confirmed), and as being for sale.

  4. This exhibition traveled to the Milwaukee Art Institute, the City Art Museum of St. Louis, the Smith College Museum of Art, the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery in Kansas City and the San Franciso Museum of Art. This tour was organized and circulated by Blanche A. Byerley, about whom little is known. The catalogue for the tour entitled “Exhibition of 20th Century (Banned) German Art” lists two works with the title Blue Horses. [Archive, Smith College Museum of Art] One further piece of the provenance chain appears in a letter dated June 10, 1963 to Jan van der Marck from Wolfensberger’s son. In that letter [Walker Art Center registrar’s object file) he states “by Mr. Tanner late owner of an Art Gallery in Zurich this same picture has been sold to the U.S.A.” This is the only reference to Mr. Tanner. Since Tanner’s name appeared on the list circulated by the Commission for Art Recovery, it was important to try to confirm the nature of his involvement, if in fact he did act as agent in the sale of the picture. Tanner’s role has not been possible to confirm as the location of his business records is not known.

  5. The painting clearly left Switzerland in 1938, and can be physically traced through the London exhibition and the subsequent U.S. tour. However, it has not been possible to ascertain the exact chronology of ownership in these years, as the painting moved from Weck’s collection to that of Karl Nierendorf, an art dealer and collector from Cologne, who had also run a gallery in Berlin before immigrating to New York in 1936.

  6. In 1941, Leroy Davidson, Assistant Director of the Walker Art Center, appears to have suggested the possibility of buying The Large Blue Horses to Hudson Walker, grandson of T.B. Walker, and himself an art dealer in New York. Hudson Walker took his Aunt Susan, Mrs. Gilbert M. Walker, to see the painting at the Nierendorf Gallery. [Letter from Hudson D. Walker to Archie D. Walker. November 28, 1941. T.B. Walker Foundation Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.] He argued the publicity value for the museum of such a high-profile purchase, and managed to persuade his aunt to acquire the painting, on behalf of the T. B. Walker Foundation, as a memorial for her late husband. [Letter from Hudson D. Walker to Mrs. Gilbert M. Walker. December 5, 1941. T.B. Walker Foundation Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.]

In a letter to Mrs. Gilbert M. Walker, Hudson Walker wrote: “You will notice in one of Mr. Nierendorf’s letters that he mentions that this painting was shown in London in 1938 as part of the anti-Hitler show of German art banned for public exhibition in Germany. Also Mr. Nierendorf assured me that the money is NOT going to Germany, but to Switzerland. I have known for several years that Nierendorf absolutely refused to handle any paintings, the sale of which would benefit Germany.” [Letter from Hudson D. Walker to Mrs. Gilbert M. Walker. December 11, 1941. T.B. Walker Foundation Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.] This seems to indicate that Nierendorf did not own the painting himself, but was acting on behalf of an owner in Switzerland—possibly Weck, possibly Tanner. However, this would contradict what Nierendorf wrote to Leroy Davidson on December 18, 1941: he confirms that the painting belonged to the Wolfensbergers and to a private Swiss collector, but then states: “I bought the picture in New York from somebody who was legally entrusted with the sale by the owner…” [Walker Art Center registrar’s object file]

Franz Marc, Die grossen blauen Pferde (The Large Blue Horses), 1911

Collection Walker Art Center, Gift of the T.B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund, 1942