sehepunkte 16 (2016), Nr. 11

Rezension: Neuerscheinungen zu Franz Marc

In March 1917, the coffin of Franz Marc was transferred from the garden of Castle Goussainville in Braquis, France, close to where Marc had been killed one year earlier, to the Oberbayern village of Kochel, where the artist had lived on and off since he was a child. In Kochel, Marc, the practitioner of a personal pantheism who had nonetheless been raised as the rare Bavarian Protestant, was reinterred in the cemetery of St. Michael's Catholic Church.

The oddness of this event - at once macabre and faintly comical - is noted in a letter from the officiating cleric, published for the first time in, and on the first page of, Franz Marc. Zwischen Utopie und Apokalypse:

"Kochel, den 30 März 1917

Sehr geehrter Her Collega!

Frau Kunstmaler Mark in Ried, Gemeinde Kochel, Pfarrei Benediktbeuern, will ihren im Feld gefallenen Mann exhumieren und auf dem hiesigen Friedhof beisetzen lassen. Sie wünscht, dass die Beisetzung in aller Stille von mir vorgenommen werde. Da aber Herr Mark protestantischer Konfession war, sind zur Beisetzung Sie zuständig. Ich ersuche Sie deshalb um Mitteilung, ob Sie die Beisetzung selbst vornehmen wollen. Da der Waggon mit dem Toten jeden Tag eintreffen kann, bitte ich um baldmögliche Antwort und zwar an mich, da nach dem Wunsch der nervenleidenden Frau, die ja hier nicht wohnt, ich die Anordnungen zur Beisetzung hier treffen soll. Ich wäre bereit, die Beisetzung vorzunehmen, weil sie gleich nach Eintreffen des Waggons vom Bahnhof aus erfolgen soll, das Eintreffen aber unbestimmt ist.

Mit bestem Gruß
Ihr ergebenster Pfarrer Reiner" (7)

This peculiar impression opens the catalogue generated by the Franz Marc Museum, also in Kochel a few kilometers from the cemetery where Marc lies, to accompany a tripartite exhibition in honor of the centennial of the artist's death. [1]

To provoke discussion around the anniversary, the museum made an unexpected decision: Rather than concentrating on its own collection, it acquired loans from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, one of Harvard University's three art galleries, and München's Pinakothek der Moderne. Thus the book is organized around the trio of Franz Marc's later paintings borrowed by the museum, Weidende Pferde IV (Die roten Pferde), 1911; Das arme Land Tirol, 1913; and Kämpfende Formen, 1914.

To some extent the catalogue adheres to the format dictated by such an exhibition, with a chapter devoted to each of these three works, their attendant preparatory sketches and related paintings, chronicling in broad fashion, as has been done before, Franz Marc's artistic role models, how he may have come by his compositional principles, and his dalliances with Cubism, Futurism, and Orphism. However the catalogue also adopts subversive peculiarities that distinguish it significantly from the prosaic coffee-table ornament, although these features are not gimmicks executed in a manner that disrupts the focus of the texts.

After its sepulchral opening, the section usurps expectation as it continues in reverse chronological order, so readers are confronted immediately with Franz Marc's death at Verdun in 1916, working back to his birth 36 years earlier in a modest apartment building near München's Hauptbahnhof. Viewed in this way, the life of the artist seems somehow richer both in urgency and happenstance, the fateful meetings with August Macke and Else Lasker-Schüler less predestined. Marc's trajectory from college- and art academy dropout to Expressionism's foremost personality comes across as an enterprise of both innovation and luck.

Upending the biography goes a long way toward resisting some of the familiar mythologizing of Franz Marc's personal and professional ups and downs. The role of Wassily Kandinsky as a major influence is diminished. Otto and Etta Stangl, who helped found the museum which opened as a privately funded foundation in 1986, and even Maria Franck Marc, Franz Marc's partner and wife, are mentioned perfunctorily, and largely in their roles as representatives and managers of Franz Marc's estate.

A tantalizingly cryptic entry also appears:

"1902: Sommeraufenthalt auf der Staffelalm [the cowherds' hut on the mountainside just above Kochel]. Marc schreibt sich nicht erneut an der Kunstakademie in München ein.

Franz Marc pflegt ein enges Verhältnis zu Annette Simon, Nachbarin der Familie in Pasing und Ehefrau des Sanskrit-Forschers Richard Simon, der dem Bruder Paul Marc Privatunterricht erteilt." (30)

These sentences imply a connection amid the events described therein. They also place the beginning of Franz Marc's defining relationship with Annette von Eckardt Simon years earlier than in previously existing literature, and in an economical clause, reveal how the Marc and Simon families came to know each other.

Zwischen Utopie und Apokalypse is full of such small details of interest to aficianados who are already familiar with Franz Marc's work and life. However the catalogue does not assume such a granular knowledge throughout and holds equal appeal for those new to the material.

In "Franz Marc 1910 bis 1914. Vom Tiermotiv zur 'Animalisierung der Kunst,'" a bridging chapter between the biography and the sections dealing with the individual exhibition paintings, the Franz Marc Museum's chief curator Cathrin Klingsöhr-Leroy gives context to some of Marc's well-known comments about "Das Tier in der Kunst." [2] Cathrin Klingsöhr-Leroy stresses that for Marc, animals represented not just symbols upon which to pin artistic theory, but rather that these investigations were crucial to Marc's pantheistic religious convictions (25).

In the age of animal studies and the Anthropocene, this view of the animal as central to Franz Marc as a person is becoming more accepted, but rather than referencing this ahistorical development, Cathrin Klingsöhr-Leroy allows an interpretation of Marc's own words to carry her argument. She singles out an April 1915 letter from Franz Marc to Maria Marc written from France, where Marc was then stationed with the Bayerische Feld-Artillerie-Regiment, as an encomium and evaluation of his entire career (28).

"Der Instinkt hat mich im großen und ganzen auch bisher nicht schlecht geleitet, wenn die Werke auch unrein waren; vor allem der Instinkt, der mich von dem Lebensgefühl für den Menschen zu dem Gefühl für das animalische, den 'reinen Tieren', wegleitete. Der unfromme Mensch, der mich umgab, (vor allem der männliche) erregte meine wahren Gefühle nicht, während das unberührte Lebensgefühl des Tieres alles Gute in mir erklingen ließ. Und vom Tier weg leitete mich ein Instinkt zum Abstrakten, das mich noch mehr erregte; zum Zweiten Gesicht, das ganz indisch-unzeitlich ist und in dem das Lebensgefühl ganz rein klingt. Ich empfand schon sehr früh den Menschen als 'häßlich'; das Tier schien mir schöner, reiner; aber auch an ihm entdeckte ich so viel Gefühlswidriges und Häßliches, so daß meine Darstellungen instinktiv, (aus einem inneren Zwang) immer schematischer, abstrakter wurden. Bäume, Blumen, Erde, alles zeigte mir mit jedem Jahr mehr häßliche, gefühlswidrige Seiten, bis mir erst jetzt plötzlich die Häßlichkeit der Natur, ihre Unreinheit voll zum Bewußtsein kam [...]." [3]

Cathrin Klingsöhr-Leroy as a curator is by default a hagiographer, but of course artist's writings, like their visual oeuvres, cannot be taken at face value and also require interpretation. The subsequent chapters on the paintings loaned for the exhibition take up this task to varying degrees.

Nina Schleif's "Künstlerische Logik: Franz Marcs Kämpfende Formen" launches from a provocative gambit, making a connection between Sigmund Freud's 1910 essay "Leonardo da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood" and Franz Marc's 1914 dark-hued painting, one of his last before World War I (31). Freud supported lay psychoanalyst Oskar Pfister's supposed identification, based on texts in Italian, of a vulture concealed in the torso of the Virgin Mary in Leonardo's The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (c. 1503). But the game of finding hidden iconographies in both figurative and nonobjective paintings is a risky one.

Freud was wrong, as later translations showed the mention of the fabric of Mary's cloak referenced a kite, not a vulture. Similarly Schleif's contention is subject to refutation: Marc's agenda is hardly a Freudian sublimation; the name of the painting itself - Kämpfende Formen - announces its content, and the claws, beaks, wings, and feathers of the battling creatures are clearly visible.

Schleif does put a halt to the oft-repeated notion that Kämpfende Formen was Marc's prophetic psychic projection - "Einer Vorausahnung bedurfte es im Sommer 1914, als Marc mit dieser Leinwand beschäftigt war, wohl nicht." (33) - since the war literally began a few weeks later, instead putting forth the interesting idea that this canvas may have been left unfinished.

Schleif's parallel analytical track, that of locating Kämpfende Formen within a group of Formen paintings Marc produced the same year - Zerbrochene Formen, Abstrakte Formen, and Spielende Formen - is quite successful, evaluating the quartet as an experimental series. As in Kämpfende Formen, biomorphic forms twist and loom from each work. Yet, as Schleif points out, each painting differs greatly from the other in palette and even the orientation of the canvases - Zerbrochene Formen is an ascending rectangle, while Spielende Formen is a dramatic, elongated horizontal format (and oddity for Marc, found notably again only in 1913's Die Wölfe (Balkankrieg); Kämpfende Formen and Abstrakte Formen are nearly squares. The inclusion of the graphic works Haus in abstrakter Landschaft and Abstrakte Komposition (both 1913-14) in Schleif's consideration of these iterations of Marc's "artistic logic" show convincingly that even as 1914 saw the creation of Marc's major late work Vögel, the artist, while not fully committed to Wassily Kandinsky's embrace of a nonobjective painting that only glancingly referenced objects in the real world, was nonetheless still open to his colleague's gegenstandslos ethos.

Nonetheless the forward-looking Marc shielded himself from the residue of the late-19th Century thought complex (which, though diffuse, was influential until well into the 20th Century) that profoundly colored the esoteric Wassily Kandinsky. It is rather the collision of even older traditions with the modern that Oliver Kase confronts in the chapter, "Apokalypse in den Bergen. Franz Marc, Das Arme Land Tirol und Tirol."

Kase concentrates on these two canvases, which have heretofore been characterized as somewhat clumsy conflict narratives, believing instead that this "Ausweitung der Perspektive" (51) establishes Franz Marc as a landscape painter, and more. The flurry of highly articulate meta-painting that occurred in Marc's career during 1913 happened for reasons outside the imminent war. This was a period when the nature and status of painting was under acute critical re-evaluation. Despite public resistance, particularly in Bavaria, categories of religious and traditional art had already been destabilized by stylistic interventions from France and Italy, but the Modernist conception of "das Bild" had not yet been established. Marc's attempt at melding the old and new to comment on this state of affairs, Kase argues, registers and confronts this critical episode in the history of art by combining abstracted religious icons with landscapes that were composites of the imaginary and real (58).

Kase practices a type of art history in this chapter that is overdue for a resurgence, using close reading and creative deduction to allow works to be seen in an entirely new way. He theorizes that, particularly in the more synthetic Tirol, with its radiating force lines warping over the mountain peaks that in turn dwarf the village beneath them, "[...] die bekrönte Madonna im Strahlenkranz auf der Mondsichel erscheint [...]" (58) as the Bavarian cult saint who both augurs the Apocalypse and offers her protection in response to votive offerings from true believers.

Andrea von Hedenström's and Lynette Roth's "Kannst du dir das denken?" addresses the third presumed masterwork in the exhibit, Weidende Pferde IV. This is one of just a few paintings that Franz Marc saw hung in a museum himself, following its creation in 1911 and first display at the Thannhauser's Galerie Moderne in Munich. The same year the collector Karl Ernst Osthaus purchased Weidende Pferde IV for the Folkwang Museum's first incarnation in Hagen.

Lynette Roth, curator from Weidende Pferde IV's Harvard home, gives a serviceable account of the background of the painting's making, going by a series of letters from the artist. The chapter takes its name from one of these, a 1911 letter from Franz Marc to Maria Franck:

"Ich habe noch ein großes Bild mit 3 Pferden in der Landschaft, ganz farbig von einer Ecke zur anderen, angefangen, die Pferde im Dreieck aufgestellt. Die Farben sind schwer zu beschreiben. Im Terrain reiner Zinnober, neben reinem Kadmium u. Kobaltblau, tiefem Grün und Karminrot, die Pferde gelbbraun bis violett. Sehr starkes, modelliertes Terrain; ganze Partien (z.B. ein Busch), in reinstem Blau! Kannst Du Dir das denken? Die Formen alle ungeheuer stark und klar, damit sie die Farben aushalten." (65)

There is little doubt that the painting Franz Marc is describing here is Weidende Pferde IV, but herein is the problem of taking artists' words as pure history. Franz Marc omits reporting the existence of the complete, and more interesting, painting on the reverse of the image of the horses.

The Busch-Reisinger Museum owns Franz Marc's 1911 Weidende Pferde IV (Die Roten Pferde). The verso of that work is this painting, a deep blue landscape with two figures in the foreground, not considered as part of Marc's canonical œuvre.

In clear contrast to the well-planned execution of the grazing horses on its front, the verso of Weidende Pferde IV is wild, mysterious, and haunting, and provides an intimate look at Franz Marc's more emotional, less formulaic approach to color and form. Yet neither writer advocates for an elevation of the painting to an official part of Franz Marc's canon.

Though the composition is partially obscured, the motifs are clear enough. Shown is a reclining female nude in a twilight landscape under a deep blue sky. The figure rests on her back, her right leg is bent. Her head, with long and flowing red hair, is slightly tilted to the right; her arms clasped behind her. This figure is somewhat characteristic in terms of the visible hatching and distinct outlines. The left of the picture contains another figure whose gender and position is indistinct. Though Franz Marc often painted nude figures relaxing outside, this painting does not seem to correspond to another finished work.

Andrea von Hedenström does point out thin connections between the recumbent figure and a few drawings from Franz Marc's sketchbooks from 1908 and 1909 (84). The restorer and conservator inventories the mystery painting's content, somehow undermining the dramatic appearance of the work taken in sum.

Like the unnamed painting, as a whole, the catalogue transcends its separate chapters in illuminating different facets of Franz Marc's conflicting desires for an earthly paradise and a violent cultural awakening, owing in large part to its clever and elegant design. It recognizes its physicality as a book, and this does strike a nice resonance with the binary posed in the title.

Art and illustrations are interspersed throughout Zwischen Utopie und Apokalypse's pages, presented thematically rather than slavishly matched to the verbiage. This type of ad hoc, associative page layout is reminiscent of the Blaue Reiter Almanach, making for a subtle homage that further pierces the complacency with which readers have come to regard catalogues.

Despite the milestone of the centenary of Franz Marc's death, remarkably little has been written about him this year or in the 21st Century thus far, despite his status and significance. In recent years the number of publications devoted to Marc have lagged far behind those devoted to Paul Cézanne, Wassily Kandinsky, and Vincent van Gogh.

Franz Marc: Zwischen Apokalypse und Utopie somewhat amends that situation and beyond the corrective is a novel and compelling addition to Franz Marc scholarship.

Upon being summoned to war, particularly following the death of August Macke in September 1914, Franz Marc renounced art. But the following year, encamped in France, the artist was moved by a touch of spring fever, and much to her surprise, Maria Marc received a letter dated 17 March 1915 containing the following news: "Heute sah ich die feine Sichel des neuen Mondes [...] so fein und leicht wie ein Diadem. Und diese Frühlingsluft, in der alles so sonderbar klingt. Bei mir stapelt sich alles bis zur schmerzhaften Müdigkeit im Kopf; aber ich fang jetzt leise an, im Skizzenbuch zu zeichnen; das erleichtert und erholt mich." [4]

This 10 by 16 centimeter Skizzenbuch aus dem Felde, the only art that Marc was to produce during the war years, contains 36 drawings, some with titles written upon them: Fuchs für buntes Papier, Stickerei, Zaubriger Moment, Gruppe von vier Pferden, and Rehgruppe. Tellingly, and touchingly, the drawings are not battlefield motifs but rather a return to the world of animals and plants. The burgeoning, crystalline forms are familiar to us from Franz Marc's paintings, but form as well a discrete body of work. The also definitively refute the notion that Franz Marc had in any way more than experimentally embraced nonobjective imagery. In these tiny, precise drawings we find the artist striving still for a synthesis of the abstract and the figurative.

A first printing of the Skizzenbuch was published by Paul Cassirer in 1920, followed by a facsimile edition overseen by Klaus Lankeit in 1956, and has been out of print until now as revisited by München's Sieveking Verlag. The drawings in the palm-sized book are printed, single-sided, on high-quality card-stock paper. This has the paradoxical effect of showing the beauty of the small-format drawings in detail if not the fragility of the leaves Franz Marc actually put his pencil to.

A twelve-page afterward by Michael Semff, the recently-retired director of Munich's Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, benefits from his familiarity with the guarded life lead by art that is pulled out of a drawer rather than hung on a wall, and restores this sense of the delicacy of the sketchbook.

Though Michael Semff makes the common mistake of identifying Franz Marc as a Kriegsfreiwilliger, he writes with authority and tenderness about the drawings themselves. Michael Semff also makes an astute connection between the primordial, swirling forms in some of the sketches and Schöpfungsgeschichte II, the woodcut Franz Marc made in 1914 as an intended plate for an illustrated Book of Genesis that remained unfinished.

In directing our attention away from what relationship the sketchbook bears to Franz Marc's paintings, Michael Semff broadens the range of issues and contexts in relation to which these drawings can be understood.


[1] The exhibition runs through 15 January 2017. For details see: Franz Marc Museum. Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, (; Franz-Marc-Park 8-10, D-82431 Kochel am See.

[2] Franz Marc introduces his concept of "Animalisierung" in letter to the publisher Reinhard Piper, who then prints the letter as an essay. See: Reinhard Piper: Das Tier in der Kunst, München 1910.

[3] This paragraph is an excerpt from a much longer letter printed in its entirety in: Franz Marc: Briefe, Schriften, Aufzeichnungen, Leipzig 1989, 140-141.

[4] Marc: Aufzeichnungen, 130-131.

Rezension über:

Cathrin Klingsöhr-Leroy (Hg.): Franz Marc. Zwischen Utopie und Apokalypse, München: Sieveking-Verlag 2016, 160 S., 124 Farbabb., ISBN 978-3-944874-43-2, EUR 39,90

Michael Semff (Bearb.): Franz Marc. Skizzenbuch aus dem Felde, München: Sieveking-Verlag 2016, 88 S., 36 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-3-944874-42-5, EUR 17,90

Rezension von:
Jean Marie Carey
Abbey College, University of Otago, Dunedin
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Jean Marie Carey: Neuerscheinungen zu Franz Marc (Rezension), in: sehepunkte 16 (2016), Nr. 11 [15.11.2016], URL:

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