Tag Archives: German Expressionism

Mysterious Skin: Franz Marc’s Hidden Painting

Franz Marc's mysterious nude in a landscape from around 1911.

Franz Marc’s mysterious nude in a landscape from around 1911.

In clear contrast to the well-planned execution of the grazing horses on its front, the verso of Weidende Pferde IV is wild, mysterious, and haunting, and provides an intimate look at Franz Marc’s more intuitive approach to color and form.

Though the composition is partially obscured, the underlying motifs are clear enough.

Shown is a reclining female nude in a dimly lighted landscape under a deep blue sky. The figure rests on her back, her right leg is bent. Her head with long and flowing red hair is slightly tilted to the right; her arms clasped behind her. This figure is somewhat characteristic for Marc in terms of the visible hatching and decorated, colorful outlines. The left of the picture area seems to indicate another figure whose gender and position we can only guess at. The middle of the picture consists of a dramatic, deeply-hued landscape, which in turn is what the reclining nude in the foreground would be part of and also looking at. Though Marc often painted nude figures relaxing outside, this painting does not seem to correspond to another finished work.

Weidende Pferde IV, 1911

Weidende Pferde IV, 1911

Weidende Pferde IV is also a stunning picture when considered in terms of Marc’s efforts to produce it: Three red horses with purple mane prance against a lemon-yellow sky and a deep blue rock formation. Marc had devoted a lot of time to developing the arrangement of the horses’ bodies in this formation. Marc had been preoccupied, and had made a difficult and lengthy process of, how exactly to balance the shapes and colors of the horses in the overall composition.

Weidende Pferde IV is the star of the second part of the exhibition trilogy “Franz Marc: Zwischen Utopie und Apokalypse,” presented by the Franz Marc Museum in Kochel on the 100th anniversary of the death year of the painter. This is one of just a few paintings that Marc saw hung in a museum himself, following its creation in 1911 and first display at the Thannhauser’s Galerie Moderne in Munich

The same year the collector Karl Ernst Osthaus purchased Weidende Pferde IV for the Folkwang Museum’s first incarnation in Hagen. The painting sold for 750 marks, as Marc triumphantly informed his brother Paul on 3 December 1911.

Marc had been constantly busy with live horses during his years in Kochel and Sindelsdorf (“Pferde auf Bergeshöh gegen die Luft stehend”), and he studied them in detail as he drew, printed and painted them.

The day before Alexej Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin and Adolf Erbslöh first visited Marc in Sindelsdorf on 3 February 1911, he wrote to Maria Marc who had at this time had left Bavaria to stay with her parents in Berlin, “Ich habe noch ein großes Bild mit 3 Pferden in der Landschaft, ganz farbig von einer Ecke zur anderen, angefangen, die Pferde im Dreieck aufgestellt. Die Farben sind schwer zu beschreiben. Im Terrain reiner Zinnober neben reinem Kadmium und Kobaltblau, tiefem Grün und Karminrot, die Pferde gelbbraun bis violett.”

The visitors loved the paintings, and by the day of his 31st birthday on 8 February Marc was a co-chairman of Neue Künstlervereinigung München.

Certainly the powerful painting of the reclining redhead should be regarded as an entirely discrete creation and given a proper name and place in the artist’s catalogue raisonné. It is curious that Harvard University’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, which purchased the painting when it was declared Entartete Kunst in 1937, has not taken the initiative to see that this is done. If only this painting could be permanently repatriated to Kochel, where it belongs.

Hienieden Franz Marc ~ Trauerarbeit 100

Indexical photo with authorial shadow; graves of Franz and Maria Marc Indexical photo with authorial shadow; graves of Franz and Maria Marc

On 4 March 2016, the 100th anniversary of the death of the painter, animal lover, writer, and ever-elusive person Franz Marc, I visited Marc’s grave in Kochel. Initially I had intended to spend the day between the Lenbachhaus and the Pinakothek der Moderne in München immersed in the paintings I have studied now for many years. But in truth I am devoted to Marc’s life as much as his art, and it seemed more right to take make a pilgrimage and pay respects in the proper sense of the word in the tiny Bavarian town where Marc lived off and on.

This trip was covered on the now-silent Franz Marc Twitter account and received much support and nice wishes from many kind souls.

It was a very emotional experience and had some typical Bavarian humorous adventures as well. I arrived on the regional train at about 11:00 on a dazzling clear, cold day, with most of the snow from the previous week’s blizzard still on the ground. The Ammergau Alps, what Marc called „das blaues Land“, glowed. Inserting itself into this majestic, somber first act was the fact that, in Kochel, Ruhezeit on Fridays apparently begins at 11:00…and this was a very intense Ruhezeit too…everything had abruptly closed, including the flower shop where I had intended to get some violets. I should add that all the flowers and plants were just sitting there outside, and the doors to the shop were open, but the lights were off and the people away being quiet. This was the same at other shops – I have always found it very amusing that in places where Ruhezeit is taken seriously, lunch places also close, even though Ruhezeit is at lunch time, and Kochel takes Ruhezeit quite seriously. In fact it was Friday Ruhezeit the entire time I was there. I stayed until 16:00, the hour of Marc’s death.
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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.

The King of the Cats

Franz Marc, Zwei Katzen, blau und gelb, 1912

Franz Marc, Zwei Katzen, blau und gelb, 1912

The College Art Association conference was held 3-6 February in Washington, D.C., which for what I study is not a very interesting art city in the way New York City is…and D.C. is thus also very expensive to visit, since the trip doesn’t include a few precious hours in the Met, MoMA, Guggenheim, Neue Galerie, and so on.

If conferencing, not museum-visiting, is to be CAA’s focus going forward, the organization should do what the German Studies Association does, and move the meeting to some less-costly destinations that still have good mass transit and more of a range of hotel rooms, like Las Vegas or Atlanta.

This conference I had a lot of tasks I actually had to do, and one I wanted to do, or I should say was very curious about doing, attending the Historians of German, Scandinavian and Central European Art, or HGSCEA, [formerly just HGCEA, but, I guess the Munch people or something…] meeting, which this year took the form of a dinner honoring the long-reigning and undisputed chief Kandinsky scholar, Rose Carol Washton Long of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Charles Haxthausen from Williams College.

I took the cryptic “honoring” on the invitation to mean “retiring,” which put me in mind of The King of the Cats. Miss Jessel’s “Haunted Palace” blog gives a nice account of the oral history tradition of this tale and its place in the folklore of the British Isles but, basically, without belaboring the point the outstanding extra-narrative moral for cat lovers and observers is probably that upon learning of the death of “the king of the cats,” all cats think that they are the designated heir to the throne.

So with respect to the fractious group of people who comprise known Kandinsky scholars…without an obvious heir apparent (to my mind there is not one, the once-promising regent having chosen their battles poorly), wouldn’t they all be prepared for anointment? As it turned out RCWL, in her very congenial speech, immediately made clear that while she was retiring from CUNY, she would not be relinquishing the reins to the Kandinsky dynasty anytime soon.

IMG_5340The “party” itself was quite a mysterious affair in that it did not appear as an “affiliated society” event anywhere on the CAA schedule (or the new Linked-In developer-sponsored) app, and was held in a small restaurant in Adams Morgan which was entirely closed except for the HSGCEA dinner. RSVP, affiliation, and credentials were thoroughly vetted at the door, and there were no nametags. Nametags would not have been much use anyway, since everyone went by a non-apparent nickname, like “Ricki” or “Mark.” And it was very dark inside the restaurant, Lillie’s (actual lighting shown), and you couldn’t see even across the room. So in other words it was pretty much how I expected it to be, except there wasn’t any kind of St. Bartholomew’s day type of fracas, duel, or mass feline exit through the fireplace.

As to my own paper and panel, I was thrown off my presentating game a little – not a lot, or not as much as I had expected or was undoubtedly intended – and got a lot of good questions, including some very specific queries from some more-than-casual idolators about Animalisierung, of all things, about the painting Tierschicksale, and about what I had specifically set out to talk about, affect/effect disturbing/calming animal images have upon human animal/human-animal empathy.

Basically my claim is that disapprobation toward animal abusers – such as generated by the film The Cove and the work of Sue Coe – is not as strong a motivator as true identification with the animal subject. Hence the focus on Franz Marc. This isn’t necessarily as obvious an idea as it seems, and bears more discussion and exploration (which is why I am writing about it).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)