Franz Marc’s The Tower of Blue Horses

tower of the blue horses

By Matt Carey-Williams

The evolution of Franz Marc’s pictorial language is one that charts a journey from expressionism via Der Blaue Reiter and then funneled through Cubism and its sunnier dialects of futurism and orphism. Marc’s passion for animals — depicted as dynamically torqued vortices painted in a rainbow of hallucinatory colours — served to signify the social and political angst that so bubbled away at this time and which would, eventually, burst in to the sulphuric horrors of the Great War.

From 1910 through 1913, one witnesses Marc’s beasts become increasingly abstracted; their already amoebic forms experiencing a more intense transmutation into daggers of colour and shards of light. Such is the case with Marc’s masterpiece, The Tower of Blue Horses (1913). A tornado of four beefy blue horses charge at us out of the picture plane. Dynamic diagonals clash with equally virile verticals, eschewing depth and exacerbating compositional propulsion. The horses are made of latticed blue and white arcs, crescents and obliques and are set against a pulsating yellow, bleeding from the sky and raining down on a small village-scape like nuclear fallout, punctuated only by a rainbow. This most vivid of paintings is about fear. The fear of an impending war; the fear of death — a fear captured most profoundly in the hearts of that most Teutonic of subjects, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which Marc clearly alludes to here. But it is also about hope, which Marc saw the colour blue signifying and which is whispered in the distant rainbow.

Sadly, Marc’s fears were not unfounded given that he would die whilst serving for Germany in World War l. The whereabouts of this painting remains unknown. Originally considered degenerate, that status was revoked by the Nazis because of Marc’s ultimate contribution on behalf of his country. The painting ended up in Göring’s infamous collection and, since 1945, has never been seen. It was March 4, 1916 that Franz Marc died. He was 36.

— Matt Carey-Williams, London

Above: Franz Marc (German, 1880-1916): The Tower of Blue Horses, 1913.
Oil on canvas, 200 x 130 cm./79 x 51 in.