Lot 7
  • 7

FRANZ MARC | Zwei blaue Esel (Pferd und Esel) (Two Blue Donkeys - Horse and Donkey)

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Franz Marc
  • Zwei blaue Esel (Pferd und Esel) (Two Blue Donkeys - Horse and Donkey)
  • signed with the initial M. (lower right)
  • gouache on paper
  • image size: 35 by 28cm.; 13 3/4 by 11in.
  • sheet size: 38.3 by 30.5cm.; 15 1/8 by 12in.
  • Executed in 1912.


Prof. Franz Stadler, Zurich (acquired in 1912) Rosa Stadler, Paris (widow of the above)

Thence by descent to the present owner


Munich, Galerie Neue Kunst (Hans Goltz), Zweite Ausstellung 'Der Blaue Reiter', 1912 Leicester, New Walk Museum and Art Gallery (on loan 1997-2019)

Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Franz Marc - The Retrospective, 2005-06, no. 182, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

Hanover, Sprengel Museum, Marc, Macke und Delaunay. Die Schönheit einer zerbrechenden Welt (1910-1914), 2009, no. 151, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Klaus Lankheit, Franz Marc, Katalog der Werke, Cologne, 1970, no. 453, illustrated p. 147 Annegret Hoberg & Isabelle Jansen, Franz Marc. The Complete Works, Munich, 2004, vol. II, no. 218, illustrated in colour p. 196

Catalogue Note

With its dynamic composition comprised of overlapping angular areas of colour and its otherworldly, dream-like atmosphere, Zwei blaue Esel (Pferd und Esel) explores the key subject of Franz Marc’s œuvre - the animal world. Executed at a crucial moment in his career, following the formation of Der Blaue Reiter that Marc co-founded with Wassily Kandinsky in 1911, the present work emphasises the abstracted forms and bold colours that were so central to the group’s ideas and integral to Marc’s own artistic style. The stylised treatment of the two animals and the richly contrasted palette, dominated by a bold blue that rejects the naturalistic use of colour, epitomise the profound contributions of Marc’s art to the emerging modernist aesthetic in the early twentieth century. Like the Impressionists and Fauves before them, Marc and his contemporaries August Macke and Heinrich Campendonk wanted to escape the city and sought inspiration from the countryside. Attracted by the bucolic splendour and the abundance of farm life, in 1910 Marc moved near Sindelsdorf, a small town on the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. It is here that Marc’s wonderfully colourful artistic menagerie came to dominate his œuvre, culminating in compositions that explore the unity between man, animal and the landscape (fig. 1). The artist sought to replace the realistic depiction of individual animals with a more stylised one and shifted from naturalistic to symbolic colouration with the aim of capturing the essence of the animals. His depictions of dogs, deer, cows and horses, among others, possess a sublimated, timeless character unique to Marc’s work.

In Der Blaue Reiter Almanac, the 1912 publication co-edited by Marc and Kandinsky, the authors promoted their new artistic movement. The premise behind this new type of painting is explained by Marc Rosenthal: ‘The key to the Blue Rider was the belief in an approaching new epoch, one that was anti-materialist and spiritually inclined. Like the earlier German avant-garde known as Die Brücke, which had already announced a break with contemporary culture, the artists believed in a new world community and an altered definition of humanity. But Blue Rider thinking was in contrast transcendent. Especially pertinent was the desire, inherited from Romanticism, for unity with the universe and a cosmic system of reference points’ (M. Rosenthal, Franz Marc in America, Berkeley, 1979, p. 23). Marc in particular championed freedom of expression and a spiritualised, somewhat mystical, approach to representing the natural world.

Marc became acquainted with the Cubist works of Picasso and Braque at the second exhibition of Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM) held in 1910, and in 1912 he saw works by the Italian Futurists at Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm gallery. Both of these experiences would have a profound effect on his own art. Annegret Hoberg writes: ‘In effect, from 1912 Franz Marc had succeeded in transforming the achievements of Cubism and Futurism with astonishing consistency. […] he intermeshes animals and environments, and organic and inorganic elements, by means of cubically chunky coloured shapes that were later fanned out in crystalline refraction to form a new unity’ (A. Hoberg in Franz Marc – The Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 41).

Another important source of influence was the Orphism of Robert Delaunay, whose paintings Marc saw only a few weeks before attending the Futurist exhibition at Der Sturm. ‘On a trip to Paris with August Macke in early October 1912, he had visited Robert Delaunay in his studio and seen the new series of Fenêtres begun in April that year [fig. 3]. With the motif of a silhouette seen through a coloured window pane, Delaunay had managed to construct pictures solely from the simultaneous contrasts of coloured planes and their rhythmic movements. […] Delaunay’s Orphism (to use Apollinaire’s term), with its transparent prisms and planes and the lively network of coloured fields, left a trace in virtually all Marc’s mature work’ (ibid., p. 42). In Zwei blaue Esel (Pferd und Esel) Marc achieved a harmony between the fractured and faceted style of the Cubists, the lyrical abstraction of Delaunay’s Orphism and his own uniquely animated subject.

Shortly after its execution, the present work was selected to be shown at the second exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter held in 1912 at Hans Goltz’s Galerie Neue Kunst in Munich. It was acquired at this exhibition by the Zurich-based collector Franz Stadler (1877-1959) and has remained in the same family to the present day. For over twenty years Zwei blaue Esel (Pferd und Esel) was on extended loan to the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester, which was one of the first public museums in the United Kingdom and today holds the country’s largest collection of German Expressionist art.