Friday, February 27, 2009

Fine Art Friday: Franz Marc, Der Blaue Reiter, and Color as Expression

Being an art historian and lover of all things art, I've decided to institute Fine Art Friday here on ArtsAfire. I'm doing this for two reasons: 1) I desperately miss all of my art history classes from college and would like to continue learning, and 2) Fine art seems to be somewhat of a dying breed as of late (which, unfortunately, is my chosen profession...) and I would like to hopefully give it a shot in the arm by showcasing everything that artists throughout history have given us.

Today the focus is Franz Marc. One of my all-time favorite painters. Being a lover of color in art it is obvious why I'm inspired by Franz Marc's paintings. The vibrant colors and juxtapositions of those colors evoke a distinct happiness that I've found is reserved for art that I love. (I mean, I'm a happy person, but there's an extra distinct happiness that I feel when I see a favorite work of art. Kind of like that distinct happiness I feel when I'm with my husband. It's just a different happiness than a general "happy." Get what I mean?)

The Large Blue Horses, (Franz Marc, 1911) is one of the masterpieces of Marc's nature style--the three brilliant beasts are fleshed out sculpturally from the equally vivid reds, greens, and yellows of the landscape.

Franz Marc was born in Munich in 1880 and was one of the more influential artists in the German Expressionism movement founded in Munich by Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky and Marc played crucial roles in the founding of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an Expressionist movement within the general German Expressionist movement. The group was founded in response to the rejection of Kandinsky's painting Last Judgement from an exhibition. Der Blaue Reiter lacked a central artistic manifesto, but was centered around Kandinsky and Marc.

Marc was the closest in spirit, of the Der Blaue Reiter artists, to the traditions of German Romanticism and lyrical naturalism, taking his original inspiration from Van Gogh whom Marc thought of as "the most authentic of painters."

Marc focused his artistic endeavors on animals because of their spiritual harmony with nature, a concept and lifestyle that many Expressionist artists sought after. Marc later developed a love for color because of its richness and beauty, which were expressive of the spiritual harmonies that he was seeking. He believed blue portrayed a masculine principle, robust and spiritual; yellow was the feminine color, gentle, serene, and sensual; and red was matter, heavy and brutal. In the use and mixture of these colors to create greens and violets and oranges the colors took on a life of their own, forming abstract shapes beyond what was portrayed on the canvas, taking on spiritual significance of their own independent of the subject matter.

Liegender Hund im Schnee (Dog Lying in the Snow), Franz Marc, 1910-11

Although the modeling of the animals in Marc's paintings gives them the effect of sculptured relief projecting from the background, there is no real spatial differentiation between the animals and their environment. The only real illusion of distance is the softer rendering of the sky in Marc's paintings. He often used landscape elements, such as tree trunks or foliage, to tie the background to the foreground, somewhat flattening his image--this ensured that the colors played an even more important role in the painting.

Marc, unlike Kandinksy, had imagery that was predominantly derived from the material world, but toward the end of his short life his artworks showed a movement toward the abstraction that Kandinsky had pioneered. At first he didn't remove the material world completely from his paintings, focusing instead on abstraction of the material. This move towards abstraction most likely stemmed from the conflict in the world that ultimately ended his life (the first World War). It was during this time that Marc painted Fate of the Animals, one of his more recognized pieces that shows a distinct departure from the spiritual colorful representations of earlier years. The painting conveys the turmoil that the animals are feeling in what looks like a violent and fast paced setting--it is likely that Marc identified with the animals during this period of turmoil.

The Fate of the Animals (Franz Marc, 1913) was completed 3 years before his death in combat in World War I.

Following this move from material/representational to abstraction, Marc moved further into artistic abstraction with Fighting Forms (1914), a virtually abstract painting portraying a curvilinear pattern in a violent battle of black and red color, of light and darkness. The forms are given such vitality that they take on characteristics of forces in an ultimate encounter.

Fighting Forms, Franz Marc, 1914

Marc died two short years after completing this painting which portrays the violent battle that eventually ended up taking his life. His change in style at the end of the life shows that Marc was deeply affected by the war in ways that other Der Blaue Reiter artists weren't and he was able to show this through his use of vibrant and violent color and forms.

Franz Marc remains one of the most important artists of the German Expressionist movement and was recognized as such while still living. Today his paintings have sold for record prices at Sotheby's art auctions. In October 1999, Der Wasserfall (The Waterfall) was sold by Sotheby's in London to a private collector for $5.06m, breaking Marc's own record of $3.30m for Rote Rehe I (Red Deer I) and surpassing any other price for a piece from 20th century German painters.

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