Franz Marc

Franz Marc

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

A word on blue

A word on blue

“Colors are not possessions; they are the intimate revelations of an energy field… light waves with mathematically precise lengths… deep, resonant mysteries with boundless subjectivity… Our lives, when we pay attention to light, compel us to empathy with color.”

Where is my cyanometer,” Henry David Thoreau cried out in his splendid journal, Excursions, (free ebook) on a blue-skied spring day, referring to the device invented by the Swiss scientist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure a century earlier to measure the blueness of the sky.

Thoreau again, “We love to see any part of the earth tinged with blue, cerulean, the color of the sky, the celestial color”

Where is my cyanometer?

Go back to 1810 and you will find Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Theory of Colours. “We love to contemplate blue,” Goethe wrote, “not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.” It may have no scientific validity but its conceptual aspects fascinate and inspire.

“As yellow is always accompanied with light, so it may be said that blue still brings a principle of darkness with it.

This color has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye. As a hue it is powerful — but it is on the negative side, and in its highest purity is, as it were, a stimulating negation. Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.

As the upper sky and distant mountains appear blue, so a blue surface seems to retire from us.

But as we readily follow an agreeable object that flies from us, so we love to contemplate blue — not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.

Blue gives us an impression of cold, and thus, again, reminds us of shade… Rooms which are hung with pure blue, appear in some degree larger, but at the same time empty and cold.

The appearance of objects seen through a blue glass is gloomy and melancholy.”

A Theory of Colours

Fast forward to 1937 and listen to Virginia Woolf when she turned blue. It became more than a colour, it turned into a mood, or rather the colour of the lacuna between being and non-being.

Into 1910 now:

Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian painter mused over the psychological and spiritual dimensions of art in Concerning the Spiritual in Art (free ebook) and lost himself in blue.”The power of profound meaning is found in blue, and first in its physical movements of retreat from the spectator, of turning in upon its own centre. The inclination of blue to depth is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is deeper. Blue is the typical heavenly colour… The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest…

When it sinks almost to black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human… When it rises towards white, a movement little suited to it, its appeal to men grows weaker and more distant. In music a light blue is like a flute, a darker blue a cello; a still darker a thunderous double bass; and the darkest blue of all — an organ.”

Then Rachel Carson in 1941 in Under the Sea-Wind (a series of lyrical narratives about the life of the shore, the open sea, and the oceanic abyss.) “The young eels first knew life in the transition zone between the surface sea and the abyss. A thousand feet of water lay above them, straining out the rays of the sun. Only the longest and strongest of the rays filtered down to the level where the eels drifted in the sea — a cold and sterile residue of blue and ultraviolet, shorn of all its warmth of reds and yellows and greens. For a twentieth part of the day the blackness was displaced by a strange light of a vivid and unearthly blue that came stealing down from above. But only the straight, long rays of the sun when it passed the zenith had power to dispel the blackness, and the deep sea’s hour of dawn light was merged in its hour of twilight. Quickly the blue light faded away, and the eels lived again in the long night that was only less black than the abyss, where the night had no end.”

Not forgotten is Nan Shepard when she wrote in the Living Mountain ” The air is part of the mountain, which does not come to an end with its rock and its soil. It has its own air; and it is to the quality of its air that is due the endless diversity of its colourings. Brown for the most part in themselves, as soon as we see them clothed in air the hills become blue. Every shade of blue, from opalescent milky-white to indigo, is there. They are most opulently blue when rain is in the air. Then the gullies are violet. Gentian and delphinium hues, with fire in them, lurk in the folds. These sultry blues have more emotional effect than a dry air can produce. One is not moved by china blue. But the violet range of colours can trouble the mind like music.”

Towards 1951: Vladimir Nabokov wrote in Speak, Memory about a lifelong crossing of the senses that resulted in his synesthetic alphabet Passing on to the blue group, there is steely x, thundercloud z, and huckleberry k. Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl.”

Closing in on 1974. We visit Annie Dillard, a poet laureate of nature, who wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, “I saw in a blue haze all the world poured flat and pale between the mountains.

In 2005 Rebecca Solnit examined in A Field Guide to Getting Lost on how we find ourselves in the unknown The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue. For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. “Longing,” says the poet Robert Hass, “because desire is full of endless distances.” Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.”

Now, why don’t you read up on Janna Levin, A Madman dreams of Turing Machines, where you will find Turing considering Morcom his soulmate: “Chris had shown him the reaction between solutions of iodates and sulfites. Holding the mixture in a clear beaker near his face, he watched Alan’s response as the solution turned a bold blue, tinting Christopher’s hair and deepening the hue of his eyes. To Alan it seemed the other way around, as though Chris’s beautiful eyes had stained the beaker blue.

And read Terry Tempest Williams in 2016 in The hour of landBlue is bunting, indigo and quick. Blue is jay, its chatter like jazz. Blue is grosbeak is bluebird is blackbird turned sky. The Chisos mountains at dusk are blue. Blue is ghost-like. Twilight. Deep border blue. Once is the blue moon where panthers dance. Twice is the blue belly of lizards flashing. Blue waves are heat waves, dervishes in sand. Blue is the long song of storm clouds gathering with rain.”

And go discover for yourselves the wondrous Bluets by Maggie Nelson.


Why do we buy and collect art?

Remember the otherwise miserly american oil billionaire J Paul Getty? I said otherwise because he spent millions of dollars on art! Think about the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. What motivated him?

There are several theories regarding this phenomena. It dates back at least to the first century CE. The Roman rhetorician, Quintilian, thought that those who professed to admire what he considered to be the primitive works of the painter Polygnotus were motivated by ‘an ostentatious desire to seem persons of superior taste’. This theory still finds many supporters.

Many consider financial gain, one can sell art, sometimes reaping huge profits. You can get large tax deductions for donating art to museums. Some collectors have figured out how to keep their artworks close at hand while still getting a tax deduction by donating them to private museums that they’ve set up on their own properties. More nefariously, some ‘collectors’ buy art as a form of money laundering, since it is far easier to move art than cash between countries.

But most collectors have little regard for profit. For them, art is important for other reasons. The best way to understand the underlying drive of art collecting is as a means to create and strengthen social bonds, and as a way for collectors to communicate information about themselves and the world within these new networks. 

Collectors are not only interested in creating social links; they are also motivated by the messages they can send once these social networks are created. We all know that art is a powerful way for the artist to express thoughts and feelings – but collectors know that art can serve as an expressive vehicle for collectors too. Many thus carefully curate their collections, purchasing only artworks whose display backs up a claim that the collector wishes to make.

Almost always, this claim is about the identity of the collector.  From the beginning of art-making, we have believed that artworks capture and preserve the essence of their makers and even their owners. As identity can derive from lineage, owning artworks is therefore also a way for an owner to communicate with the past.

Great art needs to have something to offer to the audience. Great art seems to have always a quality that allows it to transcend the artistic tradition in which it is based. It is almost like even if you don’t fully understand it; you know that it has a lot to say.

Robert McIntosh

Most Expensive Paintings - when it comes to selling works of seemingly immeasurable value, some can garner staggering amounts!

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, circa 1490–1500

Sold for: $450.3 million (R6856,72 million) at Christie’s (November 15, 2017)

Most Expensive

Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger (“Version O”), 1955

Sold for: R2731,72 million at Christie’s (May 11, 2015)

Most Expensive

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché, 1917–18

Sold for: R2594,68 million at Christie’s (November 9, 2015)

Most Expensive

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Sold for: R1825,72 million at Sotheby’s (May 2, 2012)

Most Expensive

Pablo Picasso, Young Girl with a Flower Basket, 1905

Sold for: R1751,10 million at Christie’s (May 8, 2018)

Most Expensive

Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929

Sold for: R1399,36 million at Christie’s (November 13, 2018)

Most Expensive

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Au Moulin de la Galette, 1876

Sold for: R1189,23 million at Sotheby’s (May 17, 1990)

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Irma Stern’s Arab Priest fetched R52 303 600 in 2018. This painting was unexpectedly found in a London apartment, all but forgotten. It had been donated to a charity auction by Stern in order to help finance Nelson Mandela’s legal defence in the 1950s.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

In second place is Stern again, with Bahora Girl which sold for R40 756 944 and is still framed in the original Zanzibar frame.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

In third place, you guessed it – Irma Stern’s painting entitled Seated nude with oranges which sold for R29 210 000 and was painted in 1934.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Two Arabs by Irma Stern sold for R21 166 000 in South Africa, making it the highest price ever paid for any work of art at auction in South Africa. It was sold by Strauss & Co. in September 2011.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Two Arabs by Irma Stern sold for R21 166 000 in South Africa, making it the highest price ever paid for any work of art at auction in South Africa. It was sold by Strauss & Co. in September 2011.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Following closely behind Stern’s Two Arabs is Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch by J.H. Pierneef which sold for R20 462 400 in 2017.

Most Expensive Art in South Africa

Vladimir Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl brought in R17 267 000. Tretchikoff’s paintings have achieved great international acknowledgement and have been featured in a Bowie music video, a Paterson poem, The White Stripes music video and a Hitchcock film.

Remember “through the looking glass”?

We held a workshop on June 14…Two of my students shared their work with me.

Thank you so much for sharing!

Merinda Meyer came up with this interpretation. Well done!

Wilna de Bruyn came up with this. Very creative.

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