Franz Marc and August Macke: A Neue Galerie Tribute to Young Artists Who Died Before Their Time
By Bobbie Leigh
After seeing the Neue Galerie exhibition, Franz Marc and August Macke: 1909-1914, it is hard to imagine what these two gifted artists might have painted had they survived World War One. Macke, who is barely known in this country, was killed in combat on the Western Front at 27 in 1914. Marc, who achieved considerable acclaim in his lifetime, died at 36 on the battlefield near Verdun two years later.
The two German artists met in 1910 when Macke, after visiting a gallery showing Marc’s lithographs, went to visit him. It was the beginning of a great friendship documented in this compelling exhibition. On view are some 70 paintings and works on paper that explore the life and work of these two artists who became fast friends. They traveled together, wrote scores of letters, visited each other, and exhibited in Munich, Berlin, Dresden, and Moscow. Collaborating with Wassily Kandinsky and a number of Russian emigrant artists, they were part of a group of young artists who developed the Blue Rider collective. Together they rejected the stuffy academic values of their time and aspired to express spiritual values and personal experiences through their art.
In early 1910, Marc wrote to Macke: “I consider it a great stroke of luck to have at last met a colleague of so inward and artistic a disposition —rarisseme! How pleased I would be if we are to succeed in exhibiting our pictures side by side.” The exhibition demonstrates how their lives intersected and how their art developed almost along parallel lines.
Kandinsky, who influenced both artists, was immersed in the transcendental world of the spirit while Marc was all about nature. “Animals with their virginal sense of life awakened all that was good in me,” he wrote.
Marc defined his projects in 1910 as “a pantheistic penetration into the pulsating flow of blood in nature, in trees, and in animals.” He also adopted a color symbolism to signal this “flow.” Blue was severe and spiritual; yellow, gentle and sensual; red was brutal and heavy. Marc’s dazzling paintings of cows, dogs, horses, and monkeys convey his love of animals. “The Yellow Cow” (1911) is one of Marc’s most iconic images and one of his best-known paintings. The central image is of a muscular, leaping cow with a blue spot on its belly, set in a landscape of triangular Blue Mountains, green boulders and bright orange fields.
Equally arresting and much less known is a double image of his beloved Siberian Sheepdogs almost as white as the blue-white snow that surrounds them.
Like Marc, Macke began as a figurative artist. He painted what he saw — young women beautifully dressed, bucolic landscapes, portraits, and basically familiar surroundings. Unlike Marc, he was less concerned with expressing the inner spirit of his subjects than exploring rhythmic contrasts in shape and form and what one critic called an “irradiated palette.” Above all, Macke’s work is not edgy. It is seductive, somewhat sexy, and happily innocent.
Both Macke and Marc demonstrated prodigious talent, ingenuity, and technical virtuosity, all the more tragic that we never had the chance to see how they would evolve as they leaned toward abstraction.
On view through January 21, 2019; Neue Galerie, New York, 1048 Fifth Avenue at 86th Street; www.neuegalerie.org.
Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.