There are four horses; two are grazing. The landscape swirls around them. Their bodies are rounded, earth colored, touched with red, with strong highlights outlining the mass of their muscles. They have short dark manes and tails. Where they touch the land they seem to melt into it, or grow out of it – it sustains them, and they it. Their deepest shadows and the shadows in the landscape are deep and darkly blue. Color and texture surround them.
We can only see one horse actually grazing – the other grazing horse is moving out of the picture. Another horse looks alertly into the distance, a third has his head turned toward us, one eye gazing our way. There is no sense of calm – they seem restless and wary. Marc has painted them as if he and we were only feet from where they are, bringing us into the picture and inviting us to feel what they are feeling.
Franz Marc created this painting – Grazing Horses 1 – in 1910. He was on the edge of formally identifying himself as an expressionist, in the process of working through his ideas about animals, their place in the world, and how to express what he thought about them and the world he and they lived in. They were not so much part of life as characters in the drama of life, used to express his own ideas and emotions.
And he was formalizing what he thought different colours should mean (though his ideas seem to have changed over time). Blue was for masculinity and spirituality, yellow was for the feminine, red for matter and earth and motherhood.
It was a new and a very different approach in his time and place. Many artists painted horses because they were part of work, of war, of life. Franz Marc painted horses as a way to share his hopes and fears for the world he lived in, to show and share the spirit he saw in them.
A spirit more pure and heroic than he saw in the people around him.
The approach of World War I and the political and social influences of the time affected both Marc’s ideas and his work in interesting ways. Unfortunately he did not survive the war.
If you’d like to see a little more of Franz Marc’s later work: