Franz Marc’s Winterschläfer

In the spirit of rebirth an excerpt from my research about Franz Marc’s visualization of a kind of pantheistic utopia, followed by an introduction and explanation about this new website and some other breaking German Modernism news.

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Though it doesn’t seem as if these two images appended here could possibly be related, they do have a commonality – the figures are in a state of private reverie that is between sleep and wakefulness.

Franz Marc, Der Traum, 1912.

Franz Marc, Der Traum, 1912.

Franz Marc himself charaterized his mode of trying to perceive as the animal as if in a state of somnambulism, partly conscious yet also given over to the transformative experience of being another, in this dream-like state. The animals to Marc possessed in their purity a sort of natural extraconsciousness. His work has numerous examples of figures in such a “sleepwalking” state, corresponding to the posture of animals, and also people, in a relaxed posture reclining into a receptive earth. This natural somnambulism blurred what was conventionally taken to be a distinction between people and animals, that animals are innate and instinctive, whereas humans can return to this state only in dreams.

In 1911, Marc had written an interesting personal aside in his journal:

[Können wir uns ein Bild machen, wie wohl Tiere uns und die Natur sehen?]

Gibt es für Künstler eine geheimnisvollere Idee als die [Vorstellung], wie sich wohl die Natur in dem Auge eines Tieres spiegelt? Wie sieht ein Pferd die Welt oder ein Adler, ein Reh oder ein Hund? Wie armselig, [ja] seelenlos ist unsre [Gewohnheit] Konvention, Tiere in eine Landschaft zu setzen, die unsren Augen zugehört statt uns in die Seele des Tieres zu versenken, [daß wir das seinen Blick Weltbild] um dessen Bilderkreis zu erraten.

[Diese Betrachtung soll keine müßige causerie sein, sondern uns zu den Quellen der Kunst führen.][1]

We can see this interest in the perception of animals reflected not just in Marc’s belief in the inherent Beseeltheit [2] of animals but also in his knowledge of contemporary zoology research taking place at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, for example, the writings of Wilhelm Bölsche on plant and animal taxonomy[3] and more clinical examinations, such as studies about how the retinae of insects’ eyes functioned.[4]

Thus what we think of now as “the question of the animal” was under Marc’s consideration in suprisingly contemporary terms, and should not be considered merely an outflow of his private, sentimental feelings about his pets. Like Kandinsky, Marc was curious as to whether there was a tangible basis for their claims that there existed unseen dimension in the regular order of the world but which had become invisible to callous, spiritually deprived humans.

The sketch, Liegender Hund (Russi), (and note also the title) shows that even before he began to wrangle with the problem of color, Marc was busy practicing making copies and models for his later paintings, sketches which nonetheless stood as discrete works for Marc, since, in his somewhat haphazard fashion, he also named and numbered them.

Unlike Paul Gauguin, from whom he certainly drew upon for ideas about content and color, to Marc, nude women in a natural setting were not excuses for a prurient gaze but rather these women, like Marc’s contemplative animals, symbolized innocence and purity, and were associated with the reclamation of paradise. Dreaming animals and people stood for a somnambulant state marking a kind of emotional perception that synaesthetically included auratic impressions and warmth.[5] In his painting Der Traum in which a “Wilden” woman sits cross-legged. Marc blends this image of longing for an original paradise with the European idea of paradise, where the wild lion, like that of St. Jerome, lives in peaceful harmony with horses and humans. Marc’s Animalisierung is in evidence here. Like “wild” people, animals as envisaged by Marc display a natural attunement to the spheres, having been born directly into their instincts, which modern humans – expelled from paradise – have lost.

 

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So, the archival content from Errata is still present here, but the name of both the blog and the url itself, Deutsche Moderne, probably better reflects what the topic has been for some time and will be going forward. I have retained the domain italiangreyhounds.org, and in fact the old name will continue to redirect to the new one.

In other Franz Marc news, I will be a speaker on “The Art of Animal Activism: Critical Parameters” panel at College Art Association on 4 February and then will travel to Universität Kassel to give a talk on one of my favorite subjects the relationship between Franz Marc and Russi Marc (with many beautiful heretofore unseen photographs) at the Animal Biographies –Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration? Conference 9-11 March. During February and March I will also be an official visiting scholar at Uni Kassel, thanks to the recently-founded Animals & Society Institute there.

I’ll post more information about those two papers after they’ve been delivered; both will eventually be part of published proceedings, but as these are public talks I’m happy to share the content so if you have questions please write to ask.

With the good there is always a bit of bad, and the change of year ushered in some of the latter, too. I have had a really fun and enjoyable time with my Twitter presence and met some lovely friends and professional associates and more people with an interest in “Modernism Minutiae” than I knew existed in the world, so this has been wonderful.

Unfortunately I recently had two very bad experiences with people I knew from social media…they were totally separate types of debacles too, though equally as distressing, and one involved someone I was very fond of. This suggests the problem probably stems from me being a naïve and overly sincere communicator who takes relationships in writing to be as “real” as those face to face. In any case these situations were sufficiently disruptive that in 2016 my Twitter presence will be confined to liking and retweeting stuff my arts and animals friends and associates post and the occasional animals/Expressionism interjection. I’ve shut off all my notifications and so on and will be directing most of my energy to my writing destined for publication in “official” forums and to this blog. After the 100th anniversary of Franz Marc’s death on 4 March 2016, which coincides with Animal Biographies, I think FM will probably be ready for his next adventure so that account will go away altogether, though it has been delightful to see so many fellow “Revenants” return to tell our stories.

I think probably a lot of people have had mixed results with the social part of social media, so who knows, maybe there will be an Internet-wide return to the more controlled content and contact one has with a personal domain. We’ll see. In any case please feel free to email or post comments here; I am always happy to hear from readers and discuss art history and animals, and you can reach me via email, which is connected to my iMessage account.

Einen guten Rutsch und ein frohes und gesundes Jahr 2016.

 

Footnotes

[1] Franz Marc, Schriften, ed. Klaus Lankheit (Köln: DuMont, 1978) 99-100. In this passage the square brackets are by Marc, who used them in his unpublished notations.

[2] I am interpreting this as an extension of Marc’s invented term Animalisierung as Beseeltheit, meaning the condition of being endowed with Seele. Otto Hubert Kost also addresses Animalisierung ontologically without aligning it visually in Marc’s artwork. Otto-Hubert Kost, Von der Möglichkeit: das Phänomen der selbstschöpferischen Möglichkeit in seinen kosmogonischen, mythisch-personifizierten und denkerisch-künstlerischen Realisierungen als divergenztheologisches Problem (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978) 265-267.

[3] Barbara Eschenburg, “Das Tier in Franz Marcs Weltanschauung und in seinen Bildern,” in: Franz Marc. Die Retrospektive, eds. Annegret Hoberg and Helmut Friedel, Exhibition Catalogue, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, (München: Prestel, 2005), 51-71. Eschenburg claims Marc was greatly influenced by Wilhelm Bölsche. Though trained as an archaeologist and philosopher, Bölsche was a naturalist after Marc’s own heart in that Bölsche observed and recorded data about animals and plants and reported on them in a series of self-published guides. In 1915 Marc expressed an interest in several of Bölsche’s newer nature fact books upon more than one occasion in his letters to Maria Marc: “Wenn Du je in Leseüberdruß kommst (d.h. wenn man keinen Shakespeare, Hoffmann, Dostojewsky oder Hölderlin lesen will), – so lies Fabre, Bölsche und dergleichen. Ich kann mir gar nichts Anregenderes und Befriedigenderes als Zeitvertreib und Bildung denken, als das Forschen dieser Naturwissenschaftler: Entstehung und Ahnenfolge der Pflanzen und Tierwelt, die geologischen Zeitalter (letzteres ganz besonders), Insektenleben, Sternenlehre u.s.w. Kennt eigentlich Kam[insky] viel in diesen Dingen.” From: Franz Marc: Briefe, Schriften, Aufzeichnungen. (Leipzig: Gustav Kiepenheuer, 1989), 179-180.

[4] In 1890, the retinal image of a beetle’s eye had been successfully transferred to a photographic plate – this is what Marc seems to be referring to in the letter quoted above. See Veit Loers, “Zwischen den Spalten der Welt – Franz Marcs okkultes Weltbild,” in: eds. Bernd Apke and Ingrid Ehrhardt, Okkultismus und Avantgarde. Von Munch bis Mondrian 1900-1915, (Ostfildern: Tertium, 1995), 266-269, 269.

[5] For a thorough visual analysis of Gauguin’s Manaò Tupapaú (L’esprit des morts veille), see Donald E. Gordon, “Content by Contradiction,” Art in America 70 (1982), pp. 76–89, here p. 78.

Liegender Hund (Russi), Franz Marc, 1909

Liegender Hund (Russi), Franz Marc, 1909

2 comments

  1. ‘ … Marc was curious as to whether there was a tangible basis for their claims that there existed unseen dimension in the regular order of the world but which had become invisible to callous, spiritually deprived humans’

    – I find THIS a really fascinating notion – especially in relation to the complexity of debating the absolute ‘rationality’ of science vis-a-vis (a complete dismissal of) anything regarded as vaguely ‘esoteric’. Very sad about what happened to you on twitter – like you I have the expectation that these are no less authentic (and demanding of mutual respect) than any other kind of decent human relationship or friendship. Disappointing that some people don’t seem to understand this !!

    1. Thank you for such lovely and thoughtful comments, Della, here and on Twitter. I am most fascinated with Marc’s articulation of the idea that it is up to humans to rise to the occasion of imagining the perceptions of animals as opposed to the anthropomorphic ideal that had been in place for centuries, even by well-meaning people like Jeremy Bentham who opposed Descartes, that animal sentiency had to be measured against that of human beings. I like that Marc carefully acknowledges – and tries to both describe and show – that nonhuman animals are different in ways that perhaps we can only imagine, but not different in a lower register than humans, or less deserving of consideration of theirs lives and right to live them…
      Yes the Twitter meltdown of New Year’s 2016 was very trying in the midst of an already difficult time. The eruption of misogyny, while horrible, was also sadly typical and of course our tribe has lots of remedies for shutting it down, at least in terms of contact. The other case was far more bizarre, a kind of catfishing, I guess, where the person went to a lot of trouble to manifest an identity of someone who was really really interested in Franz Marc scholarship, who I really opened up to a lot, and then, under the mildest of questioning, ghosted. In retrospect all the classic “catfishing” signs were there – no identifiable legit contacts, names, or photos, a mysterious chronic illness, an unreliable dial-up connection from the middle of nowhere…if it had been someone trying to, you know, get me to wire money to an offshore bank or something, at least that I could understand…but the only motivation seemed to be to mess with me. Anyway you and the group of people I’ve connected with through you, certainly I will keep in touch with. Thank you again Della.

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