Franz Marc’s palette, from the archives of the Franz Marc Museum, Kochel.
Franz Marc’s “Aphorism 82,” from Die 100 Aphorismen, 1915.
“Ich sah das Bild, das in den Augen des Teichhuhns sich bricht, wenn es untertaucht: die tausend Ringe, die jedes kleine Leben einfassen, das Blau der flüsternden Himmel, das der See trinkt, das verzückte Auftauchen an einem andern Ort, – erkennt, meine Freunde, was Bilder sind: das Auftauchen an einem anderen Ort.”
“I saw what the moorhen sees as it dives: the thousand rings that encircle each little life, the blue of the whispering sky swallowed by the lake, the enraptured moment of surfacing in another place. Know, my friends, what images are: the experience of surfacing in another place.”
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 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.]
We can see this interest in the perception of animals reflected not just in Marc’s belief in the inherent Beseeltheit 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 and more clinical examinations, such as studies about how the retinae of insects’ eyes functioned.
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. 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. (more…)
So I am pleased and grateful to report the publication of my first peer-reviewed anthology chapter in the journal Expressionismus in the special issue Der performative Expressionismus. The article is called “‘Der Sturm’ und die Wilden.? Franz Marcs Entscheidungskampf mit der Theatralität,” which translates imperfectly to something like “‘The Tempest’ and the Savages: Franz Marc’s Decisive Encounter with Theatricality.” (Entscheidungskampf can also mean something like Armageddon/scorched earth, which in this case is accurate.)
The article is currently behind the Neofelis Verlag paywall (for a very reasonable €13), but you will soon find it on JSTOR and elsewhere. If you have any questions about how to view article please email me.
This side project to my main research corrects some chronological errors that have consistently been repeated in both Expressionist and Dada literature about the collaboration of Franz Marc and Hugo Ball on a planned production of The Tempest at the Münchner Kammerspiele. Because the story takes place in early 1914, it has been tempting for scholars – some of them quite formidable – to conclude that it was the war that usurped these plans. However, that is not at all the case.
“What really happened” is of course quite interesting on its face and as a reminder that we in fact know very little in the way of actual facts about the historical avant-gardes, who are fast disappearing into hagiography.
More interesting to me, in terms of writing and research, was the analysis of the two small drawings Marc made as character studies of The Tempest’s Miranda and Caliban personalities. This is the first time these drawings, housed in the Kunsthalle Basel, have been subjected to such scholarly scrutiny and each contains many clues and psychological implications.
I was also intrigued to discover that Marc had sent a draft of his June 1914 essay »Das abstrakte Theater,« (also analyzed in the article) about his frustrating foray into the theater to August Macke, and that the two had previously had many exchanges about the performing arts. In fact it is clear that the very precocious Macke – who at only 21 had been the chief set designer for the theater in Düsseldorf – had had a great influence on Marc’s ideas on the subject – ideas being the key word, since Marc had no firsthand dramaturgical knowledge up until this point.
My colleague here at the university, Prof. Dr. August Obermayer, was the very gracious translator but he also provided invaluable editing and advising, and the Neofelis editors were also a pleasure to learn from.
All in all a great experience and I hope readers will find the unraveling of Expressionist mysteries as fascinating as I do.
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.
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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. 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. 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. 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.
 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.”
“Recent publications” is in quotes because all of the great opportunities to preach the gospel of Marc lately have come to me strictly through the generosity of other people, so I will quickly get to the point of thanking Trang Vu Thuy and the curatorial staff at the Lenbachhaus and Janine Arnold of Notes About Art. (Please click through the links to view the articles themselves.)
“Von »Köstlichen Figürchen« und »Wunderherlichen Farben«” by assistant curator Monika Bayer-Wermuth is actually the most wonderful post, though, on the gifts sent by the Marcs to the Mackes and is told in the same thoughtful, personal vein as are many of the chapters in the companion catalogue.
I am very happy to see art historians collaborating across distance and language just because we like the art and want for other people to be able to know about and appreciate the work of Der Blaue Reiter. (more…)
The subscription to KAPSULA, which is organized as an email listserv (so you register with your email and then get the publication delivered) is free and of course I highly recommend you subscribe at once! The thematic sequence for this series is “Longing,” and the archive of other topics such as “Bad History” and “Acting Up” is on the magazine’s website.
In the article, using an iteration of Hal Foster’s Nachträglichkeit from The Return of the Real (1996), I tell how Franz Marc’s ideas about paradise and our separation from animals reignites in the 2009 Venice Biennale installation Reading Dante by Joan Jonas and the video by Lee Lennox for the Presets’ EDM song “Girl and the Sea.”
After I wrote the article it occurred to me that I had not explained why I discussed the works out of chronology, “Girl and the Sea” from 2004 after Reading Dante from 2009. The reason is because I actually saw the Jonas first, and then the Presets video. For… reasons…the video really upset me, but it also gave me some knowledge about myself, and, more importantly, “activated” the connection between Reading Dante and Marc’s Paradies.
As I say in the article this idea has been churning inside me for awhile, and I am so grateful to KAPSULA and particularly to editor Lindsay LeBlanc for giving these ideas a polished voice and a beautifully-designed forum.