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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Tower of Blue Horses” by Franz Marc

"The Tower of Blue Horses" by Franz Marc

“The Tower of Blue Horses” by Franz Marc

“The Tower of Blue Horses” by Franz Marc shows a group of four frontally staggered horses in blue shades. Their heads are turned to the left with muscular, almost life-sized bodies dominating the composition. The four primarily blue horses, arranged in a tier to the right of the center of the picture. On the left side of the picture is an abstract rock landscape in yellow, brown, and red tones, which is arched over by an orange striped rainbow on a yellow background. The rainbow and the crescent moon, as well as the crosses on the body of the horse, express the unity of cosmos and nature.

After World War I, this painting was acquired by the Berlin National Gallery. It was removed from there as part of the “cleansing” of modern artworks under the Nazis. It was included in the “Degenerate Art Exhibition” which opened in 1937 in Munich. However, in response to a protest by veterans, because Marc had died fighting for his country in the World War I, the painting was removed and was not included in the exhibition when it opened in Berlin. It was instead transferred to Hermann Göring’s custody which then went missing at war’s end.

“The Tower of Blue Horses” is one of many animal paintings by Marc, among which several depict horses. He was attempting to imagine the view through the animal’s eyes. The tight composition of the work with its geometric structure and the use of color with echos of stained glass, and with decreasing color saturation as the eye wanders upwards created a compelling upward view.

Marc had a nature-oriented quest for spiritual redemption as his inspiration for his art. He felt that animals possessed a certain godliness that men had lost. Also, as a symbolist painter, he used mythological and dream imagery. The symbols he used had personal, private, and ambiguous references. For Marc, blue equated to spirituality and maleness, yellow with femininity and red with the earth. The colors in the painting are symbolically representing the sense of the objects in the artwork.

Franz Marc worked with Kandinsky in the formation of the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) group of like-minded artists. The group released the “The Blue Rider Almanac” and held two exhibits. More of each were planned, but the outbreak of World War I in 1914 ended these plans. Kandinsky returned to Russia via Switzerland and Sweden. Marc was drafted into the German Army, where he designed military camouflage. He painted tarpaulin covers in styles varying “from Manet to Kandinsky,” to conceal troops and equipment from enemy aircraft.

Degenerate Art Exhibition

“The Degenerate Art Exhibition” was an art exhibition organized by the Nazi Party in Munich in 1937. The exhibition presented 650 works of art, confiscated from German museums, and was staged in counterpoint to the concurrent “Great German Art Exhibition.” Degenerate art was defined as works that “insult German feeling, or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill.” Over two million people attended the exhibition.

The Exhibition included 650 paintings, sculptures and prints by 112 artists, primarily German, such as Paul Klee, Georg Kolbe, Franz Marc, and others. The Nazi’s also confiscated and exhibited works of foreign artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Piet Mondrian, Marc Chagall, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Franz Marc

Franz Marc (1880 – 1916) was a German painter and printmaker and one of the key figures of German Expressionism. He was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it.

Marc showed several of his works in the first Der Blaue Reiter exhibition in Munich between in 1911 and1912. As it was the apex of the German expressionist movement, the exhibit also showed in Berlin, Cologne, Hagen, and Frankfurt. By 1912, Marc became fascinated by futurism and cubism, and he created art that increasingly was stark and abstract. He painted The Tiger and Red Deer in 1912 and The Tower of Blue Horses, Foxes, and Fate of the Animals in 1913, in the years just before the Great War.

With the outbreak of World War I, Marc was drafted into the German Army as a cavalryman. By 1916, he had gravitated to military camouflage. His technique for hiding artillery from aerial observation was to paint canvas covers in a broadly pointillist style. He created a series of nine such tarpaulin covers in styles varying “from Manet to Kandinsky,” suspecting that the latter could be the most effective against aircraft flying above 2000 meters.

The German government identified notable artists to be withdrawn from combat for their safety. Marc was on the list, but he was unfortunately struck in the head and killed instantly by a shell splinter during the Battle of Verdun in 1916 before orders for reassignment reach him.

The Tower of Blue Horses

  • Title:              The Tower of Blue Horses
  • Deutsch:        Der Turm der blauen Pferde
  • Artist:             Franz Marc
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Date:              1913
  • Movement:    Expressionist
  • Dimensions:   Height: 200 cm (78.7 ″); Width: 130 cm (51.1 ″)
  • Museum:        LOST. Last known holder was Hermann Göring

Franz Marc

  • Name:               Franz Marc
  • Born:                 1880, Munich, Bavaria, German Empire
  • Died:                 1916 (aged 36), Braquis, France
  • Nationality:       German
  • Notable works:

A Tour of Artists and their Art

Reflections

  • From the depiction of animals to the painting military camouflage. What a strange fate?
  • Franz Marc felt that animals possessed a certain godliness that humanity had lost.
  • This painting is Missing. Have you seen it??

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“Art will liberate itself from the needs and desires of men.” 
– Franz Marc

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Photo Credit: Franz Marc [Public domain]

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