- Franz Marc
‘I am trying to enhance my sensibility for the organic rhythm that I feel is in all things,’ he wrote of his art in 1911. Not wanting to be misinterpreted as a mere follower of the Fauves, Marc was careful to clarify the aesthetic intentions and spiritual underpinnings of his own ‘wild’ stylisation. In Der Blaue Reiter Almanach, he wrote that his painting celebrated the divinity of nature and fiercely rejected the values of modernity and the material word. He explained that like the earlier Dresden-based group, Die Brücke, the artists associated with Der Blaue Reiter emphasised the distinctly German origins of their paintings: ‘In this time of great struggle for a new art we fight like disorganized ‘savages’ against an old, established power. The battle seems to be unequal, but spiritual matters are never decided by numbers, only by the power of ideas’ (quoted in Mark Rosenthal, Franz Marc, Munich, 1989, pp. 23-24).
Zwei stehende Mädchenakte mit grünem Stein points to a variety of sources that played a role in the development of Marc’s painting. Isabelle Jansen wrote about the influence of Egyptian art visible in the present oil, and even more strongly in the related sketch: ‘Marc makes use of the conventions of Egyptian art in showing several aspects of a body at once – the upper body of one of the women is frontal but her legs are in profile. The drawing is a preparatory sketch for the painting Two Standing Nude Girls with Green Stone [the present work], which Marc executed in 1910-11. The example reveals the extent to which Marc was influenced by Egyptian art – he adapted the design and adjusted it for his own requirements’ (I. Jansen in Franz Marc – The Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 81).
Marc found another important source of inspiration – both stylistically and in subject-matter – in the paintings by Paul Gauguin, whose sense of freedom and escape from the constraints of modern life in Europe paved the way for a number of avant-garde artists both in Germany and France. In their voluminous physique, their colouration and placement in nature, the two figures in the present composition are reminiscent of Gauguin's Tahitian women, and Marc’s desire to show nature in its primitive and unfettered state is strongly present here. Dominated by brightly coloured trees and a large green rock, the landscape has a strong primal and mystical quality evocative of Gauguin’s nudes painted in the lush surroundings of the South Seas. Marc would have almost certainly seen his Contes barbares (fig. 3), which was acquired by Museum Folkwang in Hagen shortly after Gauguin’s death in 1903, and is now in Museum Folkwang in Essen.
The composition on the verso is a study for the painting Streitende Pferde of 1910, which was destroyed in the Second World War and is now known only from a black-and-white photograph. In the catalogue of the exhibition dedicated to Marc’s depictions of horses, Christian von Holst writes about the composition on the verso of the present work: In Two Horses Fighting […], a large, preparatory charcoal and wash drawing for a destroyed painting with three animals, Marc gave yet another proof of his gift for the precise observation of nature. The animal evidently higher in rank is shown biting the other, whose body language clearly conveys discomfort’ (C. von Holst in Franz Marc: Horses (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 80).
Both subjects represented in this work – figures in nature and horses – reflect Marc’s interest in spirituality, a pivotal value of his art. As Mark Rosenthal wrote: ‘The key to the Blue Rider was the belief in an approaching new epoch, one that was antimaterialist 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).