The two great classic modern painters, August Macke and Franz Marc, were linked by a close friendship that is one of the special occurrences of twentieth-century art history, not only in human terms, but in artistic ones, as well.

Celebrate Friendship

“Germany today certainly has no idea what it owes to this young, dead painter—how much he accomplished, how much he succeeded at. Everything he touched with his skilled hands, anyone who came near him, came alive—every kind of material, and above all, the people whose imagination he magically captured with his ideas. How much we painters in Germany owe to him! What he has sowed will still bear fruit, and we, as his friends, want to make sure that they do not remain a secret.” (Franz Marc, in his obituary for August Macke, 1914)

When the 22-year-old August Macke (1887–1914) met the seven-year-older Franz Marc (1880–1916) for the first time in his studio in Schellingstrasse, it was the beginning of a close friendship between the two artists, although their temperaments were entirely different. The friendship was not only valuable to both, but also enriched the art of their time period. Macke had seen some of Marc’s lithographs at a gallery in Munich on January 6, 1910, and was so keen on them that he went to call on him that very day. Their friendship lasted only four years; just a few weeks after the outbreak of World War I, it came to a sudden end, with Macke’s death on the western front. Marc, who also fell on the battlefield two years later, composed a shaken obituary for his companion. He also expressed his deep sorrow in a letter to the art patron Bernhard Koehler: “It is truly the cruelest blow this war could have dealt me; I lost a piece of me when he died.”

In the brief period of time between their first meeting and their final parting, the two artists carried on an intensive dialogue. They not only entertained a lively correspondence, but also visited each other regularly, whether at Macke’s in Tegernsee, or later, in the equally tranquil city of Bonn; or at Marc’s in Sindelsdorf, in Upper Bavaria. Neither Macke nor Marc found their artistic inspiration in the dynamics of the big city, but in their encounters with the harmonious world of nature. Yet they did not go there in order to lose themselves or be isolated. Both artists undertook numerous journeys, to visit museums or meet other artists, including Robert Delaunay in Paris in 1912, whose series, Fenêtres (windows), profoundly impressed and inspired them. They took part in artistic debates and started their own discussions about, for instance, traditional color theories or the new, non-representational art. Often, they also discussed their surprisingly parallel assessments of art movements of the time, such as Cubism, Futurism, or Orphism. Together, they organized exhibitions, such as the Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon (First German Autumn Salon) in 1913 with Herwarth Walden in Berlin. As the largest presentation of international avant-garde art before World War I, it drew a great deal of attention. Through their activities—for the art group Blauer Reiter, for example—but also in their letters, they sought ways to clarify their own, individual artistic viewpoints. Paradies (paradise), the mural they painted together in 1912 in Macke’s studio in Bonn, is yet another testimony to their close connection.

All of this results in a portrait of a friendship between two artists that was essential to the development of their own works, despite their differences in artistic or cultural-political questions—for the visually oriented August Macke, who related entirely to the visible world, whose “joy in nature” transformed what he saw into radiant tones of colors, as well as for the theoretician Franz Marc, who strove for a spiritual penetration of the world, and whose (animal) paintings can be read as symbols of a spiritual truth behind the material world.

November 11, 2014 Stefanie Gommel

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