Roter Stier, 1912

Franz Marc. His career was short. Sadly ended by the Great War. He was at the centre of the Expressionist group of artists known as Der Blaue Reiter.

On the 20th anniversary of Franz Marc’s death, his friend and co-conspirator Wassily Kandinsky wrote, ‘It is sad that, beyond the Rhine, so little importance has been attached to commemorating one of Germany’s finest artistic hopes.’

Marc was a visionary who shared Kandinsky’s belief in the spiritual nature of colour, and together they founded the radical movement Der Blaue Reiter — also know as The Blue Rider — which made the case for a mystical modern art.

‘Art has always been and is in its very essence the boldest departure from nature,’ wrote Marc in 1912. ‘It is the bridge into the spirit world.’

The Foxes, 1913

The Foxes signifies a pivotal moment in the artist’s career. The year 1913 is a key one for Marc: He is experimenting with a new dynamic visual language, inspired by Orphism and Futurism, which would become his leaping-off point into Abstraction.

Mysticism and a yearning for spirituality are not generally associated with Modernism, but both artists were fascinated by theosophy and the elemental forces of nature. They believed that when the material world eventually came to an end, all that would remain would be souls communicating through coloured auras.

This religiosity almost certainly dated back to Marc’s childhood. Born in Munich in 1880, he was a child of the Romantic generation. His father was a landscape painter and his mother a devout Calvinist, and the artist grew up with the idea that strength could be found through nature.

Marc once said he wanted to paint images that ‘quivered and flowed with the blood of nature

Galvanised by the brilliant, semi-Cubist images of the French painter Robert Delaunay, Marc’s palette became more vibrant and his backgrounds more fragmented, so that his depictions of animals seemed to melt into form and colour. Marc believed that a painting’s success was partly dependent on the viewer’s involvement. In The Foxes  he is constantly leading the viewer’s eye back to the centre of the work through his use of overlapping planes and intersecting lines.

Roter Stier, Red Bull (1912), Pushkin Museum in Moscow

Träumendes Pferd, Dreaming Horse (1913), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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