Category Archives: LÖL

Animal Biographies: Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration?

IMG_5470During February and March I am a Wissenschaftliche Gäste of sorts at the Universität Kassel’s Tier-Mensch Gesellschaft. I’m doing some research in the dOCUMENTA Archiv, finishing up a chapter in my dissertation, and giving a talk at this first-of-its-kind conference, “Animal Biographies: Recovering Animal Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration?“.

The program is incredible and the speakers amazing, each talk as fascinating as the next. There are also several installations and exhibits by Mathias Antlfinger and Ute Hörner and the interspecies collective from CMUK Köln. The program is free and you can register through 25 February through the link above.

I don’t know if I can quite live up to the talents of the other panelists, but I am confident of the attraction, pathos, and intrigue of my animal biographic subject, Russi Marc, whose death exactly 100 years ago this week was noted by his lifelong human companion, Franz Marc, who made many drawings and paintings of Russi through their lives together. Franz Marc himself died just a few weeks later. Studying Russi has taken on a life of its own in my research, and as this was a very well-documented dog and one who had many humorous and thrilling adventures I am very excited to be able to share his story with other animal lovers.

One thing I like so much about animal studies (in discussing the title of our nascent discipline, which is now beginning something like its second wave most of us are happy to jettison the “human-” prefix) is that its adherents are for the most part partisan activists. This challenge to the academy as we fight the losing battle of the Anthropocene and the Sixth Mass Extinction has not gone unnoticed; this week, a sort of prank article was exposed (and one could extrapolate perhaps planted by the same people or person), in the December 2015 issue of the academic journal Totalitarismus und Demokratie. In retrospect, perhaps a “discovery” about the inherited aggression of “German” German Shepherds was too good to be true…but I am very curious to see what the fallout will be, since the “research” depended upon “primary sources” about dogs…another reason to be glad for Russi’s well-established canine celebritude, I guess.

Hund vor der Welt: How a Dog Sees the World

Hund vor der Welt, Franz Marc (1912). Oil on canvas, 118 by 83 centimetres, private collection, Switzerland

Hund vor der Welt, Franz Marc (1912). Oil on canvas, 118 by 83 centimetres, private collection, Switzerland

I write about this painting a lot – in fact I once, for quite a long time, devoted my academic research solely to this painting – but I realised I don’t often say anything about it in this space. So here is a little excerpt not from my current chapters but from a side project.

§ § §

Franz Marc made an innovative painting – a metaphysical genre portrait of his dog Russi – called Hund vor der Welt in the spring of 1912. The large vertical canvas shows the white hound seated on a hillside, facing the sun and the landscape at an angle across an indeterminate space. We have an account of what Marc had in mind in making this image in particular and Marc’s other thoughts about painting his frequent model.[1] There is also a substantial amount of documentation about Russi, the dog, who, as the artist’s constant companion, was a character who populated the art, photographs, and writing of other people. We even know where Russi was born, how he came as a puppy to live with Marc, and when he died.[2] So despite its slightly whimsical affect, Hund vor der Welt is an image of a real dog about whom much historical information is available. Marc made many paintings in which Russi also appears as a peripheral regular “character;” he leads the way in Im Regen (1912) and leaps after Die gelbe Kuh (1911).

August Macke, who came into frequent contact with Russi and made his own drawings of the dog, prevailed upon Marc to change the name of the painting from the one Marc originally had in mind, So wird mein Hund die Welt sieht.[3] We know from Marc that he wanted to show Russi in thought, so the dog’s seated posture suggests that this is what is happening in the stillness. The strange view of the landscape Russi “sees” is nonetheless completely identifiable as a typical one from around Sindelsdorf where Marc lived. By placing buildings in the recognizable, managed farmlands of Bavaria, Marc suggests that people and animals are part of the same ecology, which, for dogs as the primary animal of domestication, is certainly true.

Russi did not have the life of a working dog, instead, with Marc, dividing his time between Munich, Berlin, and the small towns of Sindelsdorf and Ried. Russi lost part of his tail in 1911, an adjustment to his appearance that is reflected in his 1912 portrait. This shows that Marc had a commitment to showing morphologically accurate details even about the animals he painted, even as the paintings themselves broke with academic naturalism.

Die gelbe Kuh, Franz Marc, 1911 189.2 × 140.52 cm Oil on canvas Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. That is Russi Marc in the lower left corner.

Die gelbe Kuh,
Franz Marc, 1911
189.2 × 140.52 cm
Oil on canvas
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. That is Russi Marc in the lower left corner.

 

[1] Franz Marc, Briefe, Schriften und Aufzeichnungen, (Leipzig: Kiepenheuer, 1989), 11. Observing Russi at this moment, Marc wonders: “Ich möchte mal wissen, was jetzt in dem Hund vorgeht.”

[2] Marc, Briefe, 196-197.

[3] Franz Marc, August Macke, Briefwechsel, (Köln: DuMont, 1964), 124-126.

More on Paradies: “Nicht für die Ewigkeit”

Brigita Hofer cleans, fills, patches, and recolors "Paradies."

Brigita Hofer cleans, fills, patches, and recolors “Paradies.”

Here is a short article on the ruhr.de website about the restoration of the Paradies mural made by Franz Marc and August Macke in 1912 at the Mackes’ home in Bonn. It’s an interesting little piece and the website also has some photographs of the movement of the mural, in the 1980s, from its original location to  the Museum für Kunst ind Kultur/Westfälisches Landesmuseum in Münster, where it lives today (there is a pretty nice replica at the August Macke Haus though). Like a lot of people I am sad that the museums can’t just switch the murals back, but this article sort of explains why that will not happen.

The restorer, Brigita Hofer, has discovered that the mural is pretty structurally unsound, giving it a soundness rating (as happens with earthquake-damaged buildings as I recently learned) of around 25, which means there’s a better than one in four chance it could collapse under any further stress. Hofer has been filling in surface cracks and erosions with non-expanding plaster and emulsifier with the tiniest of syringes. Hofer also restored some of the mural’s damaged or faded paint. In doing so she discovered that Macke and Marc had made a lot of adjustments to the mural as they worked together, repainting Eve’s face and the deer. Hofer also learned from a heretofore covered note that Maria Marc had painted the wasp at the bottom of the mural.

I am fascinated with this mural, as you might guess from how often I write about it, not for the least reason that it seems to be a truly collaborative effort that resulted in a distinct “style” that is identifiably that of both painters but is also a unique meshing of their ideas and talents. Even the animals don’t look exactly like Marc’s other animals, and for both, the palette is a bit subdued. (Except Adam reaching to embrace the monkey on the top left branch though and turning from the other figures – I think that’s a Marc thing. There is a large image of the mural in the post just before this one.)

‘Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?’

August Macke and Franz Marc packed the friendship of a lifetime into the few short years they had together from early 1910 to the summer of 1914, even with a few breaks for pouting and sulking. Some of their correspondence is recorded in a dedicated volume, and other letters, notes, stories, and recollections of their doings from other people are hidden in unpublished works and Expressionist apocrypha.

Macke and Marc enjoyed working on their art as a pair and in fact they both considered the drawings and sketches they made while just being together to fall into the class of “things we made together” on the same level as the few categorical objects to which we ascribe to their dual provenance, of which the mural Paradies, from 1912, is one. The mural lives now at the Westfalisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kultur in Münster, but it was made in the upstairs atelier of the Macke house (now the August Macke Haus ) in Bonn.

Given Macke’s constant scheming and hustling, and the sort of declarations of superficiality he seems to make about all that is admirable in painting, it is easy to think of him as being a sort of light shadow to Marc’s heavy element, but this is not at all true. And Marc often seems supremely naïve and dopey in his out-of-itness, which was also more of an occasional condition. However, the story attendant to the making of this mural finds them both in exactly these roles.

In fact as soon as I learned more about how Paradies was made, I immediately thought of the famous story in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer printed below. In fact there is not much I can say about it, or as well.

Paradies, August Macke and Franz Marc, 1912

Paradies, August Macke and Franz Marc, 1912

 

Excerpt from Tom Sawyer: Chapter 2

“Hi- yi ! You’re up a stump, ain’t you!”

No answer.

Tom surveyed his last touch with the eye of an artist, then he gave his brush another gentle sweep and surveyed the result, as before. Ben ranged up alongside of him. Tom’s mouth watered for the apple, but he stuck to his work. Ben said:

“Hello, old chap, you got to work, hey?”

Tom wheeled suddenly and said:

“Why, it’s you, Ben! I warn’t noticing.”

“Say — I’m going in a-swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work — wouldn’t you? Course you would!”

Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

“What do you call work?”

“Why, ain’t that work?”

Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:

“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”

“Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”

The brush continued to move.

“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth — stepped back to note the effect — added a touch here and there — criticised the effect again — Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:

“No — no — I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence — right here on the street, you know — but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”

“No — is that so? Oh come, now — lemme just try. Only just a little — I’d let you  , if you was me, Tom.”

“Ben, I’d like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly — well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn’t let Sid. Now don’t you see how I’m fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it — ”

“Oh, shucks, I’ll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say — I’ll give you the core of my apple.”

“Well, here — No, Ben, now don’t. I’m afeard — ”

“I’ll give you all of it!”

Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents.

Franz Marc’s Visions of Egypt

Donkey Frieze from Egypt

Donkey Frieze from Egypt

 

A couple pending matters before getting along to new business; thus, before too much more time goes by, my adventures in Hull, England, in which it turned out that donkeys were very important. Incredibly before last fall, I had never been to England, let alone Yorkshire…*

When I first became aware of Botschaften an den Prinzen Jussuf, the story around which I originally intended to discuss at the University of Hull’s Visions of Egypt: History and Culture from the 19th Century to the Present conference, my immediate reactions was, “Wow…So Sylvester!” I’m sure you are aware of who Sylvester is but, as a reminder, before Boy George, before Lady Gaga, there was Sylvester.

In addition to being an amazing soul and HiNRG dance music recording artist, Sylvester was known for hanging out in San Francisco dressed in amazing costumes, including his trademark pharaoh outfit. One of the only two times I snuck underagedly into a nightclub with a fake ID (the other time was to see the Thompson Twins) was to see Sylvester at El Goya.

So. Visions of Egypt was a conference mostly attended by actual Egyptologists, not art historians, and thus there was a lot of humor and pop-culture-referencing in many of the presentations so I think Sylvester would have been well-received. However owing to the great enthusiasm for donkeys expressed by insurgent quadruped fans, I did not get to work in any sort of reference to Sylvester in my presentation.
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Finding Franz Marc’s House in Pasing

Franz Marc's family home in the München suburb of Pasing.

Franz Marc’s family home in the München suburb of Pasing.

I’ve written a little bit about (we’re saving our full repertoire for our even-bigger-screen reveal) the accidental hobby of my creative partner and myself, a sort of reverse geocaching + film. Basically we found out we like to research the addresses of art-historical places and find the spot on the earth where they once stood. In most of these cases, such as the pop-up gallery in Berlin search which ended up being recorded during a blizzard, or the colorful studio here in München destroyed in the war, we had city records and things like invitations to or posters for exhibits to go on, and it was possible to figure out, even where addresses had changed or buildings had been demolished, where they once stood. Sometimes we were able to use GPS coordinates, tagging our own maps as we went along, and sometimes we just used a compass, building keystones, and asking questions. Most of these excursions took a couple days of research and a one-shot hike.

Franz Marc’s family house in the München suburb of Pasing turned out to be our biggest challenge, though, and somewhat unexpectedly since Pasing was never destroyed and a lot of the old buildings have been preserved. However, perhaps not surprisingly, neither were Sophie and Wilhelm Marc, the parents of Franz, nor Paul, Franz’s brother, either very good with managing money nor with keeping records. Thus as it turns out the Marcs owned the house through a chain of convoluted machinations, so the normally very useful city and state records were not helpful. We assembled our clues – fragments of notes and letters mostly, and importantly, photographs showing  the house and the yard – and set off to Pasing with only a couple of bottles of water because “how big can Pasing be?”.

Well, Pasing is not that big, but, never underestimate the amount of confusion Franz Marc can cause. On our first journey (like, on the Straßenbahn Linie 19 so not that far) we walked around the neighborhood with the most Altbauten – nothing. The second day we knew to bring some snacks, but, still, after many hours – nothing. We were getting a bit anxious time-wise, and looked over all our notes again. I kept going back to the photographs, which showed very clear views of the property including which way the shadows were falling, and, since they photos were clearly taken in summer, and then in winter, you could see which way the house itself faced. We decided on the third trip to just be more playful and counterintuitively left everything at home but the camera, and getting off the tram just walked in a direction that seemed, for lack of a better way to describe, enticing and pleasant.

Not even half an hour into the walk, we turned a corner, and there it was. The other times we had been going completely in the wrong directions, by the way. Even if I didn’t know from the photographs, I would have just known, I think, that this was a place the Marc family would have lived. It’s a comfortably large enough home, but kind of secluded, even though it’s on city block, with many trees that were saplings in the photographs, a sort of open gazebo, and many eaves and places for birds to live. It definitely had an aura and I was very happy to have found the place – it made me feel very light at heart – and happy that the Marcs had lived there. Sophie Marc stayed on at the house after Wilhelm Marc died in 1907 until she went to stay with Maria Marc later in 1914 (yes, Sophie Marc outlived Franz by just a few months).

Unfortunately, as you can see from the photos, the home is abandoned and in desperate need of some repairs. It’s probably not habitable the way it is now. I dearly hope someone will lovingly restore this historic treasure. If that person is you, please write to me and I will send you the address!

Once my heart had turned to being interested in “recovered biography” I realized how important it is to actually physically experience places and things important in the life of Franz Marc. It’s incredible to me that in a place as self-consciously “historic” as Bayern so many things are falling away. In 2013, the Goltz book store closed its physical location on the Türkenstraße, which should really have been outlawed or something. We did make some documentation of that location, too, though. But that is another story.

UPDATE: May 2015

In some recent research I was doing about some other property records and dates of births and things, I ran across an interesting fact: Around 1885-1900, Annette von Eckardt and her family, which then would have included her baby daughter Helene and husband Richard Simon, a professor at Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, lived in Pasing. By this time Richard Simon would’ve known Paul Marc, Franz Marc’s brother who also taught at the university, and who still lived with the family in Pasing, too. I’m writing something for publication about these interconnected relationships for soon, so…watch this space. The implications are interesting, and a little disturbing, too, but my intuition has been givine me this message for a long time…

Ragnarök and Roll – Franz Marc’s Birthday

Tierschicksale, 1914, Franz Marc

Tierschicksale, 1914, Franz Marc

Was kann man thun zur Seligkeit als alles aufgeben und fliehen? als einen Strich ziehen zwischen dem Gestern und dem Heute? – Franz Marc, February 1914, from the intended introduction to the second edition of the Blaue Reiter Almanac. First printed in Der Blaue Reiter. Dokumentarische Neuausgabe by Klaus Lankheit. München, 1965, p. 325.

One of the most frequently cited articles about Franz Marc in popular literature is Frederick S. Levine’s “The Iconography of Franz Marc’s Fate of the Animals” from a 1976 issue of The Art Bulletin, and, subsequently, a short book on the same subject. Apparently there are some issues with the accuracy of the translations presented in both. What’s interesting to me is the creative idea Levine had to analyze Marc’s enormous 1913 painting Tierschicksale (mysteriously residing in the Kunstmuseum Basel) as an expression of Ragnarök, the apocalypse of Norse mythology. My opinion is that despite being generally familiar with the Eddas and with Der Ring des Nibelungen Marc wasn’t that interested in these sagas and didn’t consider them as particularly German.

A few years ago Andreas Hüneke, researching at the Lenbachhaus, discovered that the inscription on the back of the painting, „Und alles Sein ist flammend Leid“ is from a volume of the Buddhist Dhammapada of the Pali Canon of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama given to Marc by Annette von Eckardt. So it doesn’t seem to refer to Ragnarök directly as Levine (not having the benefit of Hüneke’s recent work) asserts. It seems more likely that Marc was very distressed, in the summer of 1913 when he made Tierschicksale, about von Eckardt’s move away from Munich to Sarajevo. It explains a little bit about why, upon seeing the painting again a few years later, Marc says he doesn’t even remember creating it and ascribes its meaning to the more external conflagration at hand.

In any case, Levine was not discouraged by his translating experience and went on to the faculty at Palomar College in California and also spent a lot of time studying and teaching at the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

Today, on Marc’s birthday, with so many animals imperiled, Tierschicksale doesn’t really need any overdetermining; it would be very tempting to just turn and flee, if only there was somewhere to go.

“Dog Lying in the Vodafone Store”

 

Liegender Hund im Schnee, Franz Marc, 1911

Liegender Hund im Schnee, Franz Marc, 1911

hundevoda

 

 

 

 

 

 

“… Du kannst Dir kaum vorstellen, wie wunderbar schön der Winter in diesen Tagen hier ist, schleierloses Sonnenlicht und dabei den ganzen Tag Rauhreif; sehr kalt, aber von jener schönen, erfrischenden Kälte, die einen nur äußerlich, nicht innerlich frieren macht. … Gegen Abend wird es chromatischer, statt blau weiß treten rosa und komplementär grünliche Töne auf, auch violett gegen farbige Abendluft. Ich habe zwei Sachen im Schnee in Arbeit: die Rehe unter schneebedeckten Ästen und den Russi im Schnee liegend. Ich komme mit beiden ganz gut weiter, sehr farbig. …”

Franz Marc, 17.1.1911

 

A Change of Scenery

August Macke, Märchen (Sindelsdorf), 1911, Gouache, Deckweiß, Aquarell

August Macke, Märchen (Sindelsdorf), 1911, Gouache, Deckweiß, Aquarell

Franz Marc note to August Macke:

19.12.1910
Sindelsdorf

Du Gauner und alter Kulissenschleicher,

schwelge nur ruhig in den Kulissengeheimnissen anderer, einmal und zwar bald, (hörst Du?), musst Du auch aus Deinen Kulissen heraus vor die Rampe, dann schleich ich hinter Dich und beseh mir die Garderobe dieses Genies. – Übrigens lasse ich jetzt einen F …. nach dem anderen in meiner Malerei, – hörst Du sie nicht? Dröhnend!! Ich rechne nicht mehr auf den Besuch der Leute vor Weihnachten und werde also Deine Sachen nächstens zusammenpacken; es tut mit wahrhaftig leid, – sie sind mir so vertraut und lieb geworden. Soll ich die Sachen von Helmuth auch alle dazupacken? Vielleicht schicke ich das gerahmte Stilleben einmal eigens, wenn es Dir damit nicht eilt. Schreib mir bitte darüber. Grüsse Frau Lisbeth herzlichst. Viel Glück und ›Mut‹! zum Einzug in’s Atelier!

Dein Fz. M.

• • •

Although FM kind of jokes here about it perhaps being time for Helmuth Macke  – who has only just arrived – to depart, FM quickly gets used to having Helmuth around. At the end of the same month, the nurturing, self-possessed teenager makes art history happen…

One of the Happiest Days in the History of Art History

Recovered Blue Horses

bluehorsesrecovered

 

So you have probably heard by now the incredible story of how hundreds of amazing paintings were recovered right here in München – right here in Schwabing! – from the derelict apartment of an “art dealer” who had stored them in haphazard fashion amid cans of apricots and bottles of sherry. Included in the cache are long-missing works by Max Beckmann, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse. Of course most happily found is the painting above, one of Franz Marc’s Blue Horses missing for more than 70 years.

It has been super-exciting to be so lucky to be here for this momentous occasion. Everyone – not just at the museum but everyone in the city – is talking about the fantastic aspects of the story (please read up on it; it’s sure to become even more fascinating) but what is most awesome is the jubilation and delight people are expressing. I can’t think of many places where a city-wide celebration would erupt over such a story.

Of course I am not unmoved.  FOCUS magazine broke this story on Monday. When I saw the headline in the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Twitter feed I ran out to the news vendor to get a copy and snagged the last one, and the last print SZ in the stack too. I am very happy to have these print artifacts of this wonderful occasion.

Here are links from the Daily Mail (UK); Time Magazine (US); and Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE).

I am thrilled that one of the missing Blue Horses was found period, but it’s beyond overwhelming to be right here…Hopefully Turm der Blauen Pferde is hanging out in someone’s garage or wine cellar or something.