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Franz Marc – The Painter Who Loved Horses

Franz Marc, The Large Blue Horse, 1911
Franz Marc, The Large Blue Horse, 1911

20th century

Franz Marc – The Painter Who Loved Horses

German Expressionist movement had many faces. But one of the most interesting one was the one of Franz Marc. Marc looked to the natural world as an antidote to modern life, from which he felt increasingly alienated. This is why we can find so many paintings of animals in his oeuvre. Especially of horses.

Franz Marc, Blue Horse I, 1911, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau

Franz Marc, Blue Horse I, 1911, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau

Marc was a son of a landscape painter, who decided to become an artist after a year of military service had interrupted his plans to study philology. From 1900 to 1902, he studied at the Kunstakademie in Munich. The following year, he travelled to France where he saw Japanese woodcuts and the works of the Impressionists in Paris.

Franz Marc, Horse in a landscape, 1910, Museum Folkwang

Franz Marc, Horse in a landscape, 1910, Museum Folkwang


In 1907, Marc went again to Paris where saw the works of Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, the Cubists, and the Expressionists; later, he was impressed by the Henri Matisse exhibition in Munich in 1910. During this period he received a steady income from the animal-anatomy lessons he gave to artists.

Franz Marc, The Large Blue Horses, 1911, Walker Art Center Franz Marc Horses

Franz Marc, The Large Blue Horses, 1911, Walker Art Center

Blue Horse, Red House and Rainbow, postcard from Sindelsdorf to Paul Klee in Munich, 1913, Franz Marc Museum - Art in the 20th Century

Blue Horse, Red House and Rainbow, postcard from Sindelsdorf to Paul Klee in Munich, 1913, Franz Marc Museum – Art in the 20th Century

In 1910 Marc’s first solo show was held at Kunsthandlung Brackl, Munich; and he met August Macke, and Vasily Kandinsky with whom he formed the group Der Blaue Reiter. The name of the movement is the title of a painting that Kandinsky created in 1903, but it is unclear whether it is the origin of the name of the movement, as art historians found out that the title of the painting had been overwritten. Kandinsky wrote 20 years later that the name is derived from Marc’s enthusiasm for horses and Kandinsky’s love of riders, combined with a shared love of the colour blue.  For Kandinsky, blue is the colour of spirituality: the darker the blue, the more it awakens human desire for the eternal. Color was also extremely important for Marc. Not only did he understand the potential for color to affect mood, he developed a specific theory of color symbolism. His analysis of color associated blue with the masculine, yellow with the feminine, and red with the physical – often violent – world.

Der Blaue Reiter, Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, published by R. Piper & Co, 1912, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Der Blaue Reiter Almanach, Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, published by R. Piper & Co, 1912, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Marc was a sensitive man. He suffered from severe depression. Nature was something that was calming him down. His works embody the heightened anxieties of early twentieth century Europe, as people struggled with a rapidly changing, urban world on the precipice of war. He devoted himself to the study of the anatomy of animals.

Franz Marc, Resting Horses, 1911-1912, printed 1916, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Franz Marc, Resting Horses, 1911-1912, printed 1916, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

When living in Berlin, he spent countless hours at the Berlin Zoo studying and sketching the forms of animals from every conceivable angle. Through rigorous and disciplined study, he created a general concept of animal and human forms. The image of the animal continued to become ever more prominent in his art, almost entirely replacing the human form. For Marc, animals were the ideal subject matter for depicting truth, purity, and beauty. As he said:


“on the whole, instinct has never failed to guide me . . . especially the instinct which led me away from man’s awareness of life and towards that of a ‘pure’ animal. . . . an animal’s unadulterated awareness of life made me respond with everything that was good.”

Animals in a landscape were, for the artist, a bridge between man and nature, whose vanished unity he wished to restore. According to him, only animals had preserved a ‘chaste majesty’.

Franz Marc, Dreaming Horse, 1913, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection

Franz Marc, Dreaming Horse, 1913, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection


When World War I broke out in August 1914, Marc immediately enlisted. He was deeply troubled by Macke’s death in action shortly thereafter. After mobilization of the German Army, the government identified notable artists to be withdrawn from combat for their own safety. Marc was on the list but was struck in the head and killed instantly by a shell splinter during the Battle of Verdun in 1916 before orders for reassignment could reach him. Marc died on March 4, 1916, in Braquis, near Verdun-sur-Meuse, France.

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