'Is there a more mysterious idea for the artist than the conception of how nature may be mirrored in the eye of the animal? How does a horse see the world, how does an eagle, a deer or a dog? How poor and how soulless is our convention of placing animals in a landscape familiar to our own eyes rather than transporting ourselves into the soul of the animal in order to imagine his perception?'
(Franz Marc quoted in K. Lankheit (ed.), Franz Marc: Schriften, Cologne, 1978, p. 99).
Springende Pferde is a large and important painting that Franz Marc made in the autumn of 1910. It is one of a pioneering series of experimental paintings of horses that chart Marc's breakthrough to his mature style and his so-called 'animalisation' of art - a practice whereby the artist attempted to give a view of the world as if witnessed from inside the 'soul' of the animal.
Rarely exhibited since Marc's lifetime and unseen in public for over fifty years, this large and vibrant painting is also the only surviving example of Marc's brief adoption of a 'Divisionist' or Neo-Impressionist technique of breaking-up form into particles of pure colour as a way of invoking an abstract synthesis of natural form, rhythm, motion and colour. Marc's only other known painting in this significant but short-lived style was Flamender Busch, a Van Gogh-inspired work painted at the same time and subsequently destroyed during the Second World War.
It was in January 1910 that Marc had first met his great friend August Macke and through him acquired, in July, the patronage of Berlin manufacturer Bernhard Koehler. The two hundred marcs a month that Koehler subsequently sent Marc allowed the thirty years old artist for the first time to apply himself to his work as never before. This provoked a new-found confidence and boldness with new ideas that rapidly transformed his painting throughout the year. In the spring and the summer Marc became acquainted at first hand with the work of Paul Signac and the Fauves, of Ferdinand Hodler and Paul Gauguin through exhibitions of the Neue Sezession in Berlin and at the Thannhauser Gallery in Munich. The influence of these artists along with his own knowledge of Cézanne's work encouraged him to develop a more spiritually-intense and holistic art. By the autumn, when Marc had also met Alexej von Jawlensky and other artists of the NKVM, (New Artist's Association of Munich) with whom he would soon form Die Blaue Reiter, he felt accomplished enough with the recent development of his work to attempt what he called the 'spiritualisation' of his subject matter through an intense and non-naturalistic use of colour symbolism.
It was at this time and in response to the new direction he felt emerging in the art of NVKM artists such as Jawlensky, Kandinsky and Werefkin that Marc painted Springende Pferde. Marc wrote of his hopes and aims at this time. 'What seems so promising in the new work being done by the Neueknstervereinigung is the utterly spiritualized and dematerialized inwardness of feeling which our fathers... never even attempted to explore in a "picture"'. What Marc most admired was that 'in addition to their supremely spiritualized tenor, (the NKVM'S) pictures contain outstanding examples of spatial organisation, rhythm and colour theory... Their logical distribution of the plane, the mysterious lines of the one and the colour harmony of the other seek to create spiritual moods which have little to do with the subject portrayed but... prepare the ground for a new, highly spiritualized aesthetic' (Franz Marc, Letter on the Neueknstelervereingung exhibition, September 1910, quoted in K. Lankheit (ed.), ibid, p. 126).
For Marc, the horse, an animal that had been celebrated as a Romantic motif in much of the art of the 19th Century from Stubbs and Géricault to Delacroix, Degas, and von Marées, was a particularly powerful symbol of the energy, grace and power of Nature. When he had lived in the village of Lenggries near the Austrian border in 1908, Marc had become well acquainted with the animals, following them for months in their meadow and studying the rhythm and pattern of their curvilinear forms as they ran together in numerous sketches, drawings and paintings. His painterly response to this stimulus of the second NVKM exhibition was to begin a series of paintings of horses in which he attempted to co-ordinate each of the separate elements of picture-making (form, rhythm, implied movement and colour) into an intensified harmony in accordance with the 'spirit' and nature of its subject matter.
Springende Pferde is unique among these works, since it attempts to apply a bold Pointillist or Divisionist technique as a way of unifying animal and landscape, form and colour, the rhythmic curves of the jumping animals and the undulating lines of their environment into one intense, vibrant and semi-abstract, vision of wholeness and natural unity. Following on from Marc's first version of Weidende Pferde (Lenbachhaus, Munich) that he had made in the summer of 1910 and where he had first begun to explore the use of individual brush strokes of pure colour set next to one another on a white ground, here Marc has developed this, through Divisionism, into a more analytical and more abstract form. As in the now destroyed painting Flamender Busch, it is primarily with the swirling forms of movement within nature - the symbiotic relationship between wind and plant in this work, and between the running movement of the horses and the undulating landscape in Springende Pferde - that Marc is most concerned. Like the later work of the Futurist painter Giacomo Balla in his motional studies of the flights of swallows, it is these underlying or hidden abstract patterns, rhythms and 'laws' within Nature, that Marc seems most keen to divine and invoke in the abstracting tendency of these two works. 'The picture is a cosmos that has totally different laws to those in Nature' Marc wrote. 'Nature is lawless because it is an eternal chain of coming and going (Neben-und Nacheinander)... I write as if I already know something about these... laws which I have dreamt about! But I am searching with the entire longing of my soul and with all my strength after them and I have a slight idea that they are already in my paintings' (Franz Marc quoted in G. Meissner (ed.), ibid, 1980, p. 53).
It was essentially through the horse, through the way this animal in its movement and its physical form seemed to articulate and express the static forms of its environment and the landscape within which it lived, that Marc explored these hidden 'laws' or intuitive patterns of feeling that he believed gave meaning and order to the apparent chaos of nature. 'My aims lie not in the direction of specialized animal painting' Marc had written to Reinhard Piper in the spring of 1910. 'I seek a good, pure and lucid style in which at least part of what modern painters have to say can be fully assimilated. I am seeking a feeling for the organic rhythm in all things, a pantheistic empathy into the shaking and flowing of the blood in nature, in trees, in animals, in the air...I see no happier means to the "animalisation of art", as I would like to call it, than the animal picture. I employ it for this reason. In a Van Gogh or Signac everything has become animal - the air, even the rowing-boat on the water, and above all painting itself. Such pictures bear absolutely no resemblance to what used to be called "pictures".' (Franz Marc, Letter to Reinhard Piper, 20 April, 1910, in G, Meissner (ed.), Franz Marc, Briefe, Schriften und Aufzeichenungen, Leipzig, 1980, p. 30).
Aiming to convey what he believed was the holistic and unified way in which an animal like the horse perceived the world, Marc would ultimately turn towards abstract form in order to express the universal synthesis he believed existed in nature between animal and landscape. With its Signac-like break-up of form into undulating lines made up of small block-like brush marks of pure colour, Springende Pferde is one of his first steps in this direction, using a systematic kind of abstraction as a means of flattening the overall composition into a unified and more schematic composite whole.
The result is that, as in many of Marc's later works, the painting begins to operate on two separate levels, one in which the leaping horses stand as symbols of the artist's drive towards a more spiritualized and holistic vision of the world, and the other where the abstracted patterning of the painting itself visually approximates this 'animalised' vision. Perhaps the artist's first serious attempt at uniting abstract and natural form into a new holistic vision, Springende Pferde is in this respect an expression of many of the ideas that Marc would champion a couple of months later in January 1911 when he wrote: 'We are today experiencing one of the most important moments in the history of civilization. All the ancient culture we still trail along with us (religion, monarchism, aristocracy, privileges (including purely intellectual ones), humanism etc.) is a 'present which already belongs to the past'... No one can yet say what sort of new culture we are heading towards, because we ourselves are caught in the middle of change; for the future age, in which all concepts and laws will be given new birth, we modern painters are hard at work to create a 'new-born' art. This must be pure and fearless enough to admit 'every possibility' the new age will offer' (Franz Marc, Letter of 21 Jan 1911, quoted in S. Partsch, Franz Marc, Cologne 1991, p. 39).
With its shimmering mosaic-like patterning of short colourful brushstrokes and its joyful energetic leaping horses rhythmically conjured out the linear swirls of the landscape Springende Pferde is a work that seems to both echo and express much of the utopian optimism of this hope and ideals.
Oil on canvas
Please note that this lot should be starred in the catalogue.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Franz Marc , 1910s, Paintings, oil, Germany, Expressionist, equestrian
Munich, Moderne Galerie Heinrich Thannhauser, Franz Marc - Pierre Girieud, May 1911, no. 5.
Munich, Moderne Galerie Heinrich Thannhauser, Franz Marc, Collection II, January 1913.
Jena, Kunstverein, Tierbild-Ausstellung. Franz Marc, Walter Klemm, Rudolf Schramm-Zittau, Alfons Purtscher, February - March 1913.
Berlin, Galerie der Sturm, Vierzehnte Ausstellung, Franz Marc, March-April 1913; this exhibition later travelled to Hamburg, Kunstsalon Ludwig Bock & Sohn, May 1913 and Amsterdam, Moderne Kunst Kring, December 1913, no. 163.
Munich, Münchner Neue Secession, Franz Marc. Gedächtnis-Ausstellung, September - October 1916, no. 54 (lent by Maria Marc).
Berlin, Galerie der Sturm, Sechsundvierzigste Ausstellung, Franz Marc, Gedächtnis-Ausstellung. Gemälde und Aquarelle/Holzschnitte, November 1916, no. 1 (lent by Maria Marc).
Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Franz Marc, Gedächtnisausstellung, 165 Werke aus öffentlichem und privatem Besitz anlässlich des 20 jährigen Todestags des Künstlers, March - April 1936, no. 13.
Berlin, Galerie von der Heyde & Galerie Nierendorf, Franz Marc Gedächtnis-Ausstellung, May 1936, no. 18.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Franz Marc, February - March 1955, no. 4a; this exhibition later travelled to Brussels, Palais voor schone Kunsten, March - April 1955.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
58½ x 63¼ in. (148.6 x 160.5 cm.)
The artist's notebook, no. 55. p. 21.
H. Hildebrandt, 'Franz Marc. Gedächtnis-Ausstellung in der Münchener Neuen Sezession', in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, vols. 20 & 39, 1916-1917 (illustrated p. 160).
A.J. Schardt, Franz Marc, Berlin, 1936, no. I-1910-7.
K. Lankheit, Franz Marc. Katalog der Werke, Cologne, 1970, no. 114 (illustrated p. 37).
K. Lankheit, Franz Marc. Sein Leben und seine Kunst, Cologne, 1976 (illustrated p. 63, fig. 7).
A. Welti, 'Mehr als nur süss und schön', in Art, September 1980 (illustrated p. 44).
M. Moeller, Der Blaue Reiter, Cologne, 1987, p. 94 (illustrated p. 13).
M. Moeller, Franz Marc, Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, Stuttgart, 1989, no. 114 (illustrated p. 288).
H. Düchting, Franz Marc, Cologne, 1991, no. 23 (illustrated p. 45).
Exh. cat., Franz Marc, Pferde, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 2000, no. 54 (illustrated p. 72).
A. Hoberg & I. Jansen, Franz Marc, The Complete Works, vol. I, The Oil Paintings, Munich, 2004, no. 120, p. 133 (illustrated p. 132).
Maria Marc (the artist's wife), Ried, until at least 1936.
Hildegard und Kurt Kirchbach, Dresden, by whom acquired from the above circa 1937, and thence by descent to the present owners.