"And all being is flaming agony" - Der Blaue Reiter Franz Marc

8 February 1880, the painter Franz Marc was born in Munich.

"The Blue Rider has fallen, a mighty, biblical figure about whom there hung a fragrance of Eden. Across the landscape he cast a blue shadow. He was the one who could still hear the animals speak; and he transfigured their uncomprehended souls." (“Der blaue Reiter ist gefallen, ein Großbiblischer, an dem der Duft Edens hing. Über die Landschaft warf er einen blauen Schatten. Er war der, welcher die Tiere noch reden hörte; und er verklärte ihre unverstandenen Seelen“ Else Lasker-Schüler's obituary to Franz Marc in the Berliner Tageblatt. (1916)).

Arguably Franz Marc’s most important painting,
 “Der Turm der blauen Pferde” (The Tower of Blue Horses), 1913, 
part of another grotesque attempt on cleansing the world twenty years later, 
the infamous Nazi exhibition “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art), 
but seized by Hermann Göring afterwards because 
it was obviously not that degenerate and lost since 1945.

If there is a specific synonym for the senselessness of war, the Battle of Verdun usually springs to mind immediately to mind as an especially appalling example, denominating the annihilation of 300,000 human lives over a few metres of ground, back in 1916. One of them was the 36-years-old Leutnant Franz Marc, who came under French artillery fire and was hit by two shell splinters in the head during a reconnaissance ride near Braquis, 10 miles from Verdun a few weeks after the battle had begun. The war volunteer was actually supposed to be withdrawn from the frontlines as a notable artist by order of the German government on the very next day. The cleansing of Europe with the Great War as crucible he, his friend, the painter August Macke who fell a couple of days after the fighting had begun in 1914, and many other artists all over Europe had hoped for, did not take place, as it is famously known. And it might be an expression of the naïveté of all of them that an artist of Franz Marc’s calibre began to colour camouflage tarpaulins for gun emplacements in various styles, “from Manet to Kandinsky” and Picasso afterwards claimed he had made allied artists occupied with the same bright idea into Cubists.

Franz Marc: "Träumendes Blaues Pferd" (Dreaming Blue Horse, 1913)

The idea of a spiritualisation of the world, manifesting itself in the deconstruction of the awareness of nature and her recreation in geometric forms and colours, each shade with a specific, symbolic meaning, climaxed in an animalising of art, the depiction of archetypical animals. Beyond the question of how a horse or an eagle or a dog might see the world and challenging man’s own perception, ending in a universal silence of animate and inanimate nature, a sublime moment of peace mirroring Franz Marc’s quest for insight into the intrinsic, essential being of the world. His attempt to grasp a metaphysical, universal truth and hope to open a window into eternity, for himself and the viewers of his paintings, finally culminated in his verdict of “Und Alles Sein ist flammend Leid" ("And all being is flaming agony") he wrote on the back of one of his last major paintings, “Tierschicksale” (“The Fate of Animals”), anticipating the catastrophe of the war, and continuing with his variation on Buddha’s Pāli Canon: “Wer dies mit weisem Sinne sieht, / Wird bald des Leidenlebens satt: / Das ist der Weg der Läuterung“ (“those who recognise this in their wisdom / will tire of life’s sufferings / this is the way of purification”).

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