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“The Yellow Cow” by Franz Marc

"The Yellow Cow" by Franz Marc

“The Yellow Cow” by Franz Marc

“The Yellow Cow” by Franz Marc is one of Marc’s several depictions of animals in the Expressionist style. The painting depicts a yellow jumping cow, surrounded by a colorful, structured landscape.

The picture is a contrast between the dynamic yellow frolicking cow and a natural world filled with hidden forms. A back-to-nature movement that swept the artistic communities in the early years of the twentieth century greatly influenced Franz Marc.

Marc found this nature-oriented quest for spiritual redemption an inspiration for his art. He felt that animals possessed a certain godliness that men had lost. In 1915, during the war, he wrote:

“People with their lack of piety, especially men, never touched my true feelings,
But animals with their virginal sense of life awakened all that was good in me.”

Yellow Cow dates to Marc’s formative phase, during which he developed the color symbolism that permeates the painting. The symbolist painters used mythological and dream imagery.

The symbols used by symbolism are not the familiar emblems of mainstream iconography but intensely personal, private, obscure, and ambiguous references. More a philosophy than an actual style of art. 

For Marc, blue was equated with spirituality and maleness, yellow with femininity and sensuality, and red with the earth. The colors in the painting are symbolically representing the sense of the objects in the artwork. 

The Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky greatly influenced Marc’s use of color in this work.

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 and painted tarpaulin covers in styles varying “from Manet to Kandinsky,” to conceal troops and equipment from enemy aircraft.


Expressionism is a modernist movement, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. It presents the world from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for the emotional effect to evoke moods or ideas.

Expressionist artists sought to express the meaning of emotional experience rather than physical reality. Expressionism developed as a new style before the First World War. It remained popular during the Weimar Republic, particularly in Berlin.

The Great Upheaval: Franz Marc ‘s ‘Yellow Cow,’ 1911

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 1911 and 1912. 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 Yellow Cow

  • Title:               The Yellow Cow
  • Deutsch:         Die gelbe Kuh
  • Artist:             Franz Marc
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Date:              1911
  • Dimensions:   Height: 140.5 cm (55.3 ″); Width: 189.2 cm (74.4 ″)
  • Museum:        The Guggenheim

Franz Marc

A Tour of the Guggenheim

Art Investigation of “The Yellow Cow” by Franz Marc

Franz Marc Quotes


“What appears spectral today will be natural tomorrow.”


“I never, for instance, have the urge to paint animals ‘the way I see them,’ but rather the way they are… The way they look at the world and feel their being.”‘


“Today, we are searching for things in nature that are hidden behind the veil of appearance… We look for and paint this inner, spiritual side of nature.”


“Art has always been and is in its very essence, the boldest departure from nature. It is the bridge into the spirit world.”


“Blue is the male principle, stern, and spiritual. Yellow the female principle, gentle, cheerful, and sensual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the color which must be fought and conquered by the other two.”


“Like everything genuine, its inner life guarantees its truth. All works of art created by truthful minds without regard for the work’s conventional exterior remain genuine for all times..”


“Art is nothing but the expression of our dream; the more we surrender to it, the closer we get to the inner truth of things, our dream-life, the true life that scorns questions and does not see them.”


“Today, art is moving in the direction of which our fathers would never even have dreamed. We stand before the new pictures as in a dream, and we hear the apocalyptic horsemen in the air. ”


“Is there a more mysterious idea than to imagine how nature is reflected in the eyes of animals?”


“The great artists do not seek their forms in the midst of the past but take the deepest soundings they can of the genuine, most profound of their age.”


“Serious art has been the work of individual artists whose art has had nothing to do with ‘style’ because they were not in the least connected with the style or the needs of the masses. Their works arose rather in defiance of their times.”


Video on Franz Marc’s Yellow Cow


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


Photo Credit: Franz Marc [Public domain]

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