Franz Marc
Biography of German Expressionist Painter, Blue Rider Group.

Pin it

The Large Blue Horses (1911)
By Franz Marc.
Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis

Franz Marc (1880-1916)


Training as an Artist
Blue Rider German Expressionism Group
Der Blaue Reiter Artists & Movement
Meets Robert Delaunay
Dies at Verdun
Selected Paintings

NOTE: For analysis of works by German Expressionists like Franz Marc,
please see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

Tiger (1912) By Franz Marc
State Gallery, Munich. One of the
greatest 20th-century paintings.


One of the great exponents of Expressionism, the German artist Franz Marc was - along with Wassily Kandinsky - one of the founders of the Blue Rider Group (Der Blaue Reiter), a seminal style of German expressionism, based in Munich. Early visits to Paris in 1903 and 1907 introduced him to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, although he was strongly attracted to the work of Van Gogh (1853-90), under whose influence his painting style moved towards expressionism. Tragically, he was killed at Verdun, at the age of 36. His painting Leaping Horses (Springende Pferde, 1910, private collection), was sold in 2009 at Christie's for nearly 5 million dollars. Now ranked among the top modern artists and one of the greatest expressionist painters, Franz Marc's best known works include Tiger (1912, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus), The Large Blue Horses (1911, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis), and Red Horses (1911, private collection). For more about Marc's contribution to the style of expressionism, see: History of Expressionist Painting (c.1880-1930).

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

Paintings by Franz Marc
are widely available online
in the form of poster art.


Training as an Artist

Marc was born in Munich in 1880, his father was a landscape painter. In 1900 he trained at the Munich Art Academy, studying painting, drawing and etching under the artists Gabriel von Hackl (1843-1926) and Wilhelm von Diez (1839-1907). Between 1903 and 1907 Marc spent time in Paris, visiting the city art galleries, and copying the works of the Old Masters. He came into contact with all the progressive artists of the day including Paul Gauguin and Van Gogh, as well as Picasso and Braque. During this period he was involved in several stormy marriages.

Blue Rider German Expressionist Group

In 1910, Marc made an important friendship with August Macke (1887-1914), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and his partner Gabriele Munter (1877-1962); the four shared a similar view on the progression of art. In 1911, they established the Blue Rider Group (Der Blaue Reiter). Both Marc and Kandinsky had been former members of the Neue Künstlervereinigung Group, but resigned on the formation of their own movement. Both artists believed that art should possess a spiritual dimension. Kandinsky outlined this opinion in his 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art' essay in 1911. The name of the group was derived from a 1903 painting by Kandinsky, although some suggest it could have been derived from Marc's love for horses and Kandinsky's love of the colour blue. Kandinsky felt that blue was an emotive colour, which could awaken the human desire for the eternal. In later years, studies into the psychology of colour in painting would lend support to this view.


Der Blaue Reiter Artists & Movement

The Blue Rider organised their first exhibition in 1911 and 1912 in Munich at the Thannhauser Galleries which went on to tour around Germany. The group expanded to include Marianne von Werefkin, Gabriele Munter, Paul Klee, Albert Bloch, Lyonel Feininger, Alfred Kubin and Alexei von Jawlensky. Other artists also joined the exhibitions, invited by Marc because he believed their works represented true art. These artists included Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), Picasso (1881-1973) and Robert Delaunay (1885-1941). The Blue Rider Almanac was published in 1912: 1,100 copies were printed. The volume was edited by Marc and Kandinsky and contained reproductions of 140 paintings and 14 major theoretical art discussions. In 1913, they exhibited at the first German Herbstsalon. Although the artists within the group varied in their approach to style, they shared a common desire to portray spirituality in their art. They believed in the progression of modern art, the connection between visual arts and music, and the symbolic and spiritual association of colour. Members of the Blue Rider Group were also interested in primitivism and German medieval art, as well as non-figurative, contemporary art. Many of the members of the group, encountering the work of the Fauvists, Rayonists and Cubists, graduated towards abstraction. The outbreak of World War I led to an abrupt end of the Blue Rider Group, when many of its members either volunteered or were conscripted to join the army.

NOTE: Another important expressionist group which emerged in Dresden during the 1900s was known as Die Brucke (the Bridge), members of which included Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Erich Heckel (1883-1970) - and later, Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Max Pechstein (1881-1955), the Dutch Paris-based painter Kees van Dongen (1877-1968) and Otto Mueller (1874-1930).

Meets Robert Delaunay

In 1912, Marc's personal style developed when he met Robert Delaunay. Delaunay's use of colour and interest in Futurism inspired Marc. The latter's style increasingly began to focus on animals in landscape - their innocence he claimed gave him access to truths denied to the human race. In their fate he saw a symbol of an apocalyptic fate confronting mankind. In one work, Fighting Form (1914, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich), his work had developed into near abstraction, and he seemed to prophesy the war in which he lost his life. He strove to capture the 'mystical inner construction' of animals in his paintings, comparing his works to El Greco and Paul Cezanne. The geometric forms seen in his later work also show influences of Cubism, Futurism and Orphism.


Marc made over 60 prints in woodcut and lithography and many gouache paintings. His work is characterised by bright primary colours, simplicity of form and almost Cubist portrayal of animals. In his 1910 painting Leaping Horses (Springende Pferde), Marc wrote of his aims 'What seems so promising in the new work being done by the Neueknstervereinigung is the utterly spiritualized and dematerialized inwardness of feeling which our fathers... never even attempted to explore in a picture'. For Marc the horse was an animal that had been celebrated since Roman days, and into the 18th/19th centuries by famous artists including George Stubbs, Gericault, Delacroix, Degas and von Maree. The horse was a powerful symbol of grace, energy and power of nature. He attempted to separate elements of picture-making - that of form, rhythm, implied movement and colour - into a harmony in relation to the spirit and nature of its subject matter. Leaping Horses is unique among his horse works in that it attempts to apply Pointillist or Divisionist techniques. He unifies animals and landscape, colour and form with an under current of abstraction. Like Flights of Swallows by the Futurist painter Giacomo Balla, Marc sought to evoke the underlying, hidden abstract patterns, rhythms and laws of Nature. As Marc wrote: 'Nature is lawless because it is an eternal chain of coming and going... I write as if I already know something about these... laws which I have dreamt about! But I am searching with the entire longing of my soul and with all my strength after them and I have a slight idea that they are already in my paintings'. Ultimately he turned to abstract art in order to express the universal synthesis he believed existed in nature. Leaping Horses, with its block like marks of pure colour is similar to pictures by the Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac. Marc was also influenced by Russian Rayonism (1912-14) a Cubo-Futurist style of painting developed by Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) and Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962). At the same time he exerted an influence on several Russian artists including David Burlyuk (1882-1967).

Dies at Verdun

Tragically, Marc's life was cut short at the age of 36, in the catastrophe of Verdun - a battle in which 7,000 horses were killed in a single day. His works did not go unnoticed during the Nazi regime when he was denounced during the Nazi degenerate art campaign, and 130 of his works were removed from German art museums. He remains one of the most important figures in the expressionist movement in prewar Germany.

Selected Paintings

Famous expressionist paintings by Franz Marc include:

- Leaping Horses (Springende Pferde, 1910, private collection)
- Dog Lying in the Snow (1910-11, Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt)
- Red Horses (1911, private collection)
- The Yellow Cow (1911, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York)
- The Large Blue Horses (1911, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis)
- Deer in the Woods II (1912, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich)
- Tiger (1912, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus)
- Little Blue Horse (1912, The Saarland Museum, Saarbrucken)
- The Fate of the Animals (1913, Kunstmuseum, Basle)
- Foxes (1913, Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf)
- The Lamb (1913-14, Museum Boymans-van-Beuningen, Rotterdam)
- Fighting Forms (1914, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich)

Museum Collections

The Franz Marc Museum in Kochel am See, Germany, is a major centre for works by Marc. In addition, as befits one of the great 20th century painters, his pictures can be seen in a number of the best art museums in America, including:

- Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Museum of Modern Art, New York City
- National Gallery of Art, Washington
- Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

• For more information about Expressionism, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.