Franz Marc, Animals and Spirituality
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Franz Marc (8 February 1880 – 4 March 1916) was a German painter and print maker. He was a colleague of Kandinsky, and one of the founders of the "Blau Reiter" (Blue Rider) school. Marc saw nature and art as a form of spiritual redemption. He believed that animals had a divinity that men had lost. "People with their lack of piety, especially men, never touched my true feelings," Marc wrote in 1915. "But animals with their virginal sense of life awakened all that was good in me."
Marc saw the horrors of war; he was drafted to serve in the German Army in 1914, and died in 1916 at the Battle of Verdun. It is understandable that it was animals that touched his "true feelings" in a world in which men were intolerably violent.
However, we are part of nature, not separate from non-human animals, plants and the earth; if we believe that animals have a divinity, then we share that too. Marc's deep affection for animals can be seen in his art; where he developed a symbolic use of colour to represent their spirituality, akin to Kandinsky's theories of art, colour and spirituality:
"When religion, science and morality are shaken … and when the outer supports threaten to fall, man turns his gaze from externals in on to himself. Literature, music and art are the first and most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt. They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show the importance of what at first was only a little point of light noticed by few and for the great majority non-existent. Perhaps they even grow dark in their turn, but on the other hand they turn away from the soulless life of the present towards those substances and ideas which give free scope to the non-material strivings of the soul.
Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.
The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended. And for this reason it is necessary for the artist to know the starting point for the exercise of his spirit". Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, (Über das Geistige in der Kunst). 1912
To build our spiritual strength, in order to have the courage to defend nature, in a world in which nature is under continual threat from climate change and habitat loss, perhaps we should engage more with art (through viewing or making) that connects us tie the world of non-human animals; to find the deep spiritual connection between all nature.
Many of Marc's animal paintings are displayed at the Lenbachhaus in Munich. Ten tears ago I went on a "pilgrimage" to the Lenbachhaus to see Marc's animal paintings; I felt I had been called to see them. I went back day after day to the Marc gallery and sat in front of Marc's images of animals; I felt a deep connection to Marc's animals - just what Marc intended.
All the paintings in this post are by Marc, and they are on display at the Lenbachhaus in Munich. All these images can be freely downloaded for personal use from the Lenbachhaus website.