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Franz Marc - The Tower of the Blue Horses

by John Hinnerk Pahl

The 1913 oil painting "The Tower of the Blue Horses", 200 x 130 cm in size and lost since 1945, is part of a great enterprise. Its creator Franz Marc planned all his life to create "symbols that belong on the altars of the coming spiritual religion and behind which the technical producer disappears"[1]. Let us look at his lost major work and question its character as a "cult image":

We see four horses in an oblique frontal view, piling up towards the back. They appear to be in motion and turn their heads partly sweeping to the right. In contrast to the 1911 work Red Horses/Pasturing Horses IV, the plasticity of the animal figures is clearly reduced in favour of a strongly abstract mode of representation. The curves of the horses' bodies merge into a crystalline network of forms and lines that interlock the foursome into a single body. The "Tower", dominated by deep blue colours, contrasts in colour with the background, which is abstracted almost to the point of non-representationality and is characterised by warm yellow, red and green tones. Yet here, too, the overlapping meshes of forms and lines bring about a coalescence into a single continuum. A rainbow in the upper left against the yellow of the background corresponds with a crescent moon in the lower right in the chest area of the horse figure in front.

Franz Marc's great enterprise was to transform "Weltanschauung into Weltdurchschauung"[1] for all mankind, to recover an "intuitive, primary faculty"[2] of which the artist believed himself to be in possession. He had something "mysterious, happy in his pocket", he confided to his wife Maria.[3] "The impious human being who surrounded me (especially the male one) did not excite my true feelings, while the untouched feeling for life of the animal made everything good resound in me. And away from the animal an instinct guided me towards the abstract, which excited me even more."[4]

The Tower of the Blue Horses anticipates a state of purified humanity in harmony with creation that stands in stark contrast to the present Marc perceives. "Progress today possesses all the characteristics of a religious system", he remarks in his 1914 essay "The Abstract Theatre", but this is a "religion of self-mutilation". Still on the battlefields of the First World War, on the other hand, he hopes for the advent of a new era of "the pleasure of pure knowledge of things, the redemption of belief in matter, mastery and overcoming of matter"[5]. The "Tower of the Blue Horses" is the cult image of a faith that has remained a lofty wish. Franz Marc was killed in action in France on 4 March 1916.

Franz Marc - The Tower of the Blue Horses

Oil on canvas, 1913, 200 × 130 cm, lost since 1945

Franz Marc - Red Horses/Pasturing Horses IV

Oil on canvas, 1911, 121 x 183 cm, Havard Art Museum, Cambridge

[1] Franz Marc: The 'Savages' of Germany, Munich 1912.

[2] Aphorism 35.

[3] Letter 217, 1916.

[4] Letter 168, 1915.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Franz Marc: 'The Secret Europe', November 1914.


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