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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Franz Marc and “Das abstrakte Theater”

 

Miranda, 1914

Miranda, 1914

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.

Caliban, 1914

Caliban, 1914

Franz Marc as an Ethologist

My 2012 M.A. thesis, Franz Marc as an Ethologist,  is now part of the online collection of the open-access Social Science Research Network (SSRN).  You can download it or look at the abstract here.

Franz Marc, Rehe im Schnee II, 1911, one of Marc's paintings discussed in my thesis.

Franz Marc, Rehe im Schnee II, 1911, one of Marc’s paintings discussed in my thesis.

Franz Marc’s Skizzenbuch aus dem Felde and a Poem

Franz Marc, Skizzenbuch aus dem Felde, Skizze 24, 1915

Franz Marc, Skizzenbuch aus dem Felde, Skizze 24, 1915

I recently looked harder at Franz Marc’s experiments with poetry. I think you could say that much of Marc’s writing borrows structurally from poetry, and Marc read a lot of poetry, including all of the classics you’d expect, work by people he actually knew, such as Gottfried Benn and Else Lasker-Schüler. He was also interested in French Symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé, particularly Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard of 1897, having extensively annotated a copy of the text; contact with Hugo Ball, who was influenced by Mallarmé’s text/design, probably heightened Marc’s attention.

From 1912 Marc made doodles of lines of the following poem here and there, and of course the last line is what Marc had originally intended to be the title of the painting we know as Tierschicksale (1914). But it was not until 1915 he wrote these phrases down all together in his small portfolio of drawings made in Germany and France, during the war.  It’s hard to say what the poem means, especially in the context of the (approximately – some leaves may be lost) 35-page sketchbook’s compact animal images, it is very interesting. A translation is elsewhere but here is the original poem:

“…ein rosafarbner Regen viel [sic] / auf grüne Wiesen. / die Luft war wie grünes Glas. / das Mädchen [sah auf’s] blickte ins Wasser; das Wasser war klar [rein] wie Kristall; da weinte das Mädchen. / die Bäume zeigten ihre Ringe; die Tiere ihre Adern”.

(Abgedruckt in: Klaus Lankheit: Franz Marc: sein Leben und seine Kunst. Köln: DuMont 1976, S. 124.)

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.

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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.[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.

(My) “Recent Publications” on Franz Marc

Die Lautenspielerin, August Macke, 1910

Die Lautenspielerin, August Macke, 1910

“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.)

My post (which is present entirely owing to the patience of Vu Thuy) “Ein Manifest der Freundschaft” is in honor of the August Macke und Franz Marc: Eine Künstlerfreundschaft exhibition (on through 3 May 2015 in the Lenbachhaus Kunstbau) and concerns one of my favorite subjects, the Paradies mural.

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.

Thanks to the generous invitation of Arnold, I have two entries on her Notes About Art website, one called “Confrontations & Reconciliations” about my interpretation of Franz Marc’s gift of the painting Blaues Pferdchen, Kinderbild to August Macke and the other a bit about the history of Marc’s two Turm der blauen Pferde.

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. Continue reading

Every Word with Love

August Macke and Franz Marc : An Artist FriendshipToday is the 99th anniversary of the death of Franz Marc. (Marc would have really liked someone who also died this week, Leonard Nimoy and Nimoy’s Mr. Spock character from Star Trek.) I didn’t write my normal “Franz Marc’s Birthday” post (Marc’s birthday is 8 February) this year because the idea of the grief we feel for Marc and August Macke has been much on my mind. This is partly owing to my own research, but also to do with the publication of the catalogue attendant to the Lenbachhaus’s current exhibition, August Macke und Franz Marc: eine Künstlerfreundschaft (August Macke and Franz Marc: An Artist Friendship in English).

The catalogue is, not surprisingly, a tour-de-force of editing and research by longtime Lenbachhaus Blaue Reiter curator Annegret Hoberg and Volker Adolphs of Kunstmuseum Bonn. What is unexpected is that the editors and included authors bring to bear not just a wealth of knowledge but so much compassion to these essays, confronting directly the loss and sadness we naturally feel over the too-short lives of Marc and Macke.

This is not to say the entries are not impeccably scholarly; Hoberg’s “August Macke and Franz Marc / Ideas for a Renewal of Painting” and Adolphs’ “Seeing the World and Seeing Through the World / Nature in the Work of August Macke and Franz Marc” are classic art historiography based in peerless analysis. Gregor Wedekind’s “The Masks of the Savages / Primitivism and Cultural Critique in the Work of August Macke and Franz Marc” was of particular interest to me as it underscores how the work of the avant-gardes was received in its time as a shocking departure from what the world then considered “civilized” painting. There are a few small errors marring Klara Drenker-Nagels’ otherwise illuminating discussion of the relationship between Maria Marc and Elisabeth Erdmann-Macke that I’m sure will be corrected in subsequent editions.

Of special delight in terms of the arrangement and presentation of the catalogue are some shorter, data-packed chapters on the Paradies (1912) mural and other anecdotes about Marc’s and Macke’s overlapping but very different lives.

Of course the catalogue is rich with the paintings, weavings, sketches, and photos that grace the exhibition itself. As a discrete publication, this is one that must truly be enjoyed as a book – I received it on a Friday afternoon and spent the entire weekend poring over every image, footnote, and phrase, alternately smiling and wiping away tears. Turning the last page, I was filled with admiration for this Lenbachhaus-Kunstmuseum Bonn collaboration, every word written with love.

Essay in KAPSULA: Franz Marc, Joan Jonas, The Presets

I was very pleased and honored to have my article “Channeling Franz Marc in the Prelapsarian Longing of Joan Jonas and Lee Lennox” accepted and published by the Toronto-based journal of contemporary art, KAPSULA.

The subscription to KAPSULA, which iScreen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.18.27 AMs 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.

Teenage Catalyst: Helmuth Macke and Franz Marc

Helmuth Macke, Drei Pferde, 1913

Helmuth Macke,
Drei Pferde,
1913

“The ‘boarding school’ is in session,” Franz Marc wrote nervously to his friend August Macke.[1] Pining for company in the same letter, Marc nonetheless wondered if August should come and get Helmuth Macke, August’s young cousin, whom the Macke family had deposited some weeks earlier at Marc’s small apartment in rural Sindelsdorf. It was late November 1910. Marc would soon turn 31, and Helmuth was 18. Until Helmuth’s arrival, Marc had been working alone for some time. At the insistence of her concerned parents, Maria Marc had returned to Berlin. Marc was just beginning to see the slightest of incomes from his painting, but he was irritable and distracted. And now August, himself adjusting with his wife Elisabeth to the birth of their son, expected Marc to find ways to entertain a teenager.

Yet Helmuth was resourceful and clever. During the weeks in Sindelsdorf, (which become months and longer: “Helmuth’s fine, he’s still growing,” Marc reported the following summer)[2], Helmuth taught himself enough Dutch to communicate with Heinrich Campendonk; chopped wood and built a fence; practiced painting and drawing, befriended Marc’s dog Russi; and demonstrated a talent for cooking and baking. This latter skill commanded Marc’s particular favor. Animated but sympathetic, Helmuth provided stability and encouragement. By Christmas Marc had breezily informed August that Helmuth would be staying on.[3]

As the calendar turned to 1911, the chrysalis of Sindelsdorf opened and released a new Marc to Munich. Seeking a sophisticated way to celebrate New Year’s, Helmuth pointed Marc toward a performance of Arnold Schönberg quartets. The music had a vivid impact on Marc, which he reported with great excitement to Maria, August, and a new friend who had missed the concert – Wassily Kandinsky. At a the soirée given by Marianne von Werefkin at which Marc and Kandinsky met at last in person, Helmuth was at Marc’s side, and witnessed the twinkle in the eye of fate that became Der Blaue Reiter.[4]

After the party, Helmuth and Franz took the late train from Munich to Penzburg, laughing and marveling over their adventure as they walked jauntily through the falling snow back to Sindelsdorf. Neither traveler was concerned for the future at that joyful moment, and mercifully, neither could know what the future held.

Helmuth Macke died in 1936 when his small boat capsized in a sudden storm on Lake Constance, having given his sailing companion the only life preserver.

[1] Franz Marc, August Macke: Briefwechsel. (Köln: DuMont, 1964), 20-21.

[2] Marc and Macke: Briefwechsel, 42.

[3] Marc and Macke: Briefwechsel, 28.

[4] Dominik Bartmann, Helmuth Macke, (Recklinghausen: Verlag Aurel Bongers, 1980), 26.

Mystery Painting by August Macke?

Is this colorful village scene painted by August Macke?

I have been working on a project about authenticating a painting maybe misattributed to one of my Expressionist painters (yet maybe made by another), so I was very interested to see a story crop up over the weekend in the Münchner Merkur online edition (pretty sure Süddeutsche Zeitung, usually so on top of all news Bayern, must be spitting nails!) about a man who thinks he owns a painting by August Macke.

Even more intriguingly, the painting would have been made in 1910, the year Macke spent in Tegernsee during which time Franz Marc often came to visit the Macke family, sometimes walking there through Oberbayern from Sindelsdorf to Tegernsee with Russi Marc. This period of time is recounted with warmth and in detail by Margarethe Jochimsen and Peter Dering in the book August Macke in Tegernsee.

The man who owns the painting, Herbert Spiess, claims to have purchased it from an art dealer in Vienna in 1984. Spiess told the Merkur he became convinced the painting, a small streetscape, was a Macke simply through visual association. (The Westfälische Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte in Münster says “no” in the Merkur’s story; no comment from the Lenbachhaus or the August Macke Haus in Bonn).

Macke enjoyed his time in Tegernsee. This was a happy year for Macke and his wife, Elizabeth and their first son, Walter, was born in the quiet lakeside village. Macke was more or less amused by his botany-obsessed landlords, whose Bayerische dialect he was able to penetrate with Marc’s help. Stubbornly autodidactic and much more fanciful and imaginative than he appeared at a glance, Macke spent hours doing “copying exercises” with Marc (and doing some other fun stuff too), and experimented with many styles of painting and drawing in 1910.

During this time, despite being in a very attractive location, Macke concentrated on portraiture, making many sketches and paintings of Walter, Elizabeth, and the famous portrait of Marc.

Bildnis Franz Marc, August Macke, 1910

But Macke also was always making all sorts of things, from tapestries to fabric designs to theater decorations. So it’s certainly possible this single painting is something he just knocked out during this period of great productivity – Macke was exceedingly prolific and made more than 200 paintings between 1909 and late 1910, when the young family returned to Bonn, leaving cousin Helmuth Macke to stay with Marc.

So it’s hard to say, from looking alone, if this painting could be Macke’s. I hope it is but (and this is really just a very strong intuition as much as empirical assessment) my feeling is that it might not be. To my eye the painting lacks that little flourish of passion and verve, and of capturing the “inner realities” of the beauty he was in the physical world, that is the beautiful Expressionist hallmark of Macke’s oeuvre. With any luck I’m wrong though, and the world will have a new August Macke painting to admire.

Anyway, the reporter, Vera Markert, asks that if you have any information or ideas about the painting to get in touch with the Merkur via email at kultur@miesbacher-merkur.de wenden.