FRANZ MARC (1880-1916) Pferd  (Executed in 1912)

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Lot 13

Sold for £ 1,095,062 (US$ 1,320,703) inc. premium
FRANZ MARC (1880-1916)
with the signature 'F. Marc' (lower left)
gouache, brush, ink and pencil on paper laid on board
36.7 x 42.9cm (14 7/16 x 16 7/8in).
Executed in 1912


  • Provenance
    Sir Michael Ernest Sadler Collection, Leeds & Oxford (by December 1934).
    Michael Sadleir Collection (born Michael Thomas Harvey Sadler), Bisley (by descent from the above in 1943).
    F. A. Drey Collection, London (acquired from the above by March 1944 from The Leicester Galleries, London, exhibition of Sadler's collection).
    E. J. Norton Collection, London (circa 1950s).
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    London, New Burlington Galleries, Exhibition of Twentieth Century German Art, (organised by Sir Herbert Read), July 1938, no. 171.
    London, The Leicester Galleries, Selected Paintings Drawings and Sculpture from the Collection of the late Sir Michael Sadler K.C.S.I., C.B., LL.D., 7 January - 10 February 1944, no. 59.

    M. L. Hutchinson, Catalogue of Pictures, Drawings, Prints & Sculpture in the possession of Sir Michael Sadler at The Rookery, Headington near Oxford, Vol. I, December 1934, p. 77.

    Pferd is a large work on paper by Franz Marc depicting his most defining and symbolic motif. Realised at the height of Marc's involvement with the Blaue Reiter group, the work issues from his celebrated series of animal paintings in which the artist synthesised his deeply spiritualised world view with radical developments in his formal language. Unseen in public for over 70 years, Pferd is also distinguished by important, early provenance and exhibition history where, since its creation in 1912, it has resided exclusively in notable private collections.

    The first owner of Pferd was the leading twentieth century educationalist, collector and patron of modern art, Michael Ernest Sadler. During the early decades of the 1900s, Sadler, thanks to his wife's largesse, amassed a collection of contemporary art which was unrivalled anywhere in England during the early years of the twentieth century. The collection included works by Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Wassily Kandinsky, amongst many others. Sadler even owned Paul Gauguin's highly influential painting Vision after the Sermon now at the Scottish National Gallery. Most significantly, Sadler and his son, Michael Thomas Harvey Sadler (later known as Michael Sadleir to distinguish himself from his father), became the first champions and patrons of the Blaue Reiter group in England, a cause which was nurtured by their well-documented friendship with Wassily Kandinsky and his wife and fellow member of the group, Gabriele Münter.

    Sadler and his son were first introduced to the work of Kandinsky in 1911, on the occasion of Frank Rutter's Allied Artist's Association Exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall. The aim of the AAA was to break the power of the Royal Academy by allowing subscribers to exhibit their works without prior submission to a jury. Kandinsky, as yet unknown in England, proposed some woodcuts to exhibition which were seen and purchased by Sadler's son. The encounter was to prompt Sadleir to make Kandinsky's acquaintance and, following an exchange of letters (now in the Tate Archive), Kandinsky invited father and son to visit him at his country residence near the town of Murnau, south of Munich.

    In the summer of 1912 both men departed for Germany where they embarked upon a voracious picture-buying tour. In Murnau, the Sadlers were so enthralled by Kandinksy's conversations concerning the Religious and Mystical in art that they missed the last train to Munich and were forced to stay overnight at the station hotel. Sadler even commented in a letter to his wife on the 17th August 1912 that 'Kandinsky lent us nightshirts, a hair brush and some soap' (M. E. Sadler quoted in M. Sadleir, Michael Ernest Sadler (Sir Michael Sadler, K.C.S.I.) 1861-1943, A memoir by his son, London, 1949, p. 239). The meeting however was to forge an enduring and productive friendship between the men, evinced in many letters to father and son until 1936. Sadler bought several paintings and drawings during the visit and Kandinsky was to send him several more over the following years. As Sadleir later recalled in his memoir of his father: 'Kandinsky later became a painter and teacher of international repute whose work – painted and written – had an immense influence on the progressive young. I believe that (my handful of woodcuts apart) the pictures bought by MES [Michael Ernest Sadler] at this time were the first specimens of Kandinsky's work to be seen in England' (M. Sadleir, ibid., p. 239).

    When the men returned they planned to put together a Blaue Reiter exhibition in London, however this had to be abandoned on the account of cost. Two watercolours by Kandinsky were however lent by Sadler to the now celebrated exhibition of Post-Impressionist Pictures and Drawings organised by Frank Rutter at the Leeds Art Gallery in 1913. Sadler, who was Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University at the time, wrote an introduction to the work of Kandinsky in the catalogue, and its content demonstrates his familiarity with the Blaue Reiter group and a deep understanding of their artistic aims. Another important aspect in the Sadler's promotion of Kandinsky and the Blaue Reiter, was the translation and publication of Kandinsky's work of aesthetic theory Über das Geistige in der Kunst [The Art of Spiritual Harmony] by Sadleir in 1914. Sadleir's translation of Kandinsky's seminal thesis is still in print today and remains one of the most commonly used English versions of the book.

    Among the many works by Kandinsky that Sadler owned was the important oil entitled Fragment for Composition VII of 1912 (illustrated). This work was acquired by Sadler in 1913 and presented alongside Pferd in the 1944 selling exhibition of his collection at The Leicester Galleries, arranged by his son following his father's death in 1943. The work was sold to Douglas Cooper and is now in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (illustrated).

    Given Sadler's enthusiasm for the Blaue Reiter and his close ties to Kandinsky, it is highly likely that Pferd was acquired through his artist friend. In a fateful letter to Sadler from November 1914, Kandinsky makes a direct reference to Marc: 'Klee has not been called up, but Marc and Stadler are serving' (Letter from W. Kandinsky to M. Sadler: Tate Archive). Marc was of course never to return from the front: in 1916 at just thirty-six he was tragically killed by a shell fragment to the temple.

    Sadler's collection contained one other work on paper by Franz Marc. Dated to the same year as Pferd and bearing a strikingly similar signature, Zwei Frauenakte (A. Hoberg & I. Jansen, Franz Marc, The Complete Works, Vol. II, Works on Paper, Postcards, Decorative Arts and Sculpture, no. 214) is listed beneath Pferd as 'Two Figures' in M. L. Hutchinson's catalogue of Michael Sadler's collection in 1934. The work was also included in the Leicester Galleries 1944 catalogue as 'Group of two women' (no. 24) and was later sold at auction in London in 1979. It was not until this time that it was brought to Germany and presented to the celebrated Franz Marc scholar, Dr. Klaus Lankheit, who subsequently documented the work. Zwei Frauenakte had formerly been unpublished. Pferd, by contrast, has remained publicly unseen since its brief appearance with The Leicester Galleries in 1944, and has not left the UK since its acquisition.

    In recognition of the prominence that Pferd held within Sadler's collection, it was selected for inclusion in the Exhibition of Twentieth Century German Art at the New Burlington Galleries in 1938. The exhibition brought together a selection of the 'best works' from a number of Modern German artists and was arranged in reaction to the suppression and persecution of artists in Nazi Germany (held just a year after the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich): 'The organisers of the present Exhibition are not concerned with the political aspect of the situation; they merely affirm one principle: that art, as an expression of the human spirit in all it's mutations, is only great in so far as it is free...That is the only principle that we maintain, but in virtue of this principle we can offer the persecuted artists of Germany the prospect of appealing to the unprejudiced eyes of the world' (Exh. cat. Exhibition of Twentieth Century German Art, London, 1938, pp. 6 – 7). The exhibition was organised by Herbert Read, a former student of Leeds University and participant of the Leeds Art Club – a group co-chaired by Sadler which met to discuss radical politics, spiritualism and art. The club met monthly at Sadler's home in Leeds at Buckingham House on Headingley Lane, and it was here that Read likely first saw Pferd hanging among his vast collection. Sadler took up the post of Master of University College Oxford in 1923 but he remained a keen promoter of Modern and Expressionist art and frequently loaned works from his collection to artists and exhibitions. Pferd remained in Sadler's collection until his death in 1943.

    Painted in 1912, the present work depicts a lyrically stylised horse, surrounded by abstracted shapes of pure colour. With its elegantly simplified motif, animated by dynamic line and symbolic colour harmony Pferd shows Marc making his first strides towards an integration of form, colour and line, to express a vision of the universe as a harmonious yet abstract, spiritual entity. Such aims, which began with Romanticism, found their zenith in the shared beliefs of the Blaue Reiter group, an association of artists which had formed in December of the previous year and of which Marc was a leading member.

    Key to the Blaue Reiter group was the belief in an approaching new era, one that was anti-materialistic and spiritually inclined. In Marc's essay for the Blaue Reiter almanac of 1911, he encapsulated the principle ideas and objectives of the group: 'art is about the profoundest of matters, that reviving it cannot be formal but is a rebirth of thinking...their thinking has a different object, to create symbols of their time through their work that belong on the altar of the future spiritual religion and behind which technical producers will vanish' (F. Marc quoted in A. Hoberg (ed.), Franz Marc, The Retrospective, exh. cat., Munich, 2006, p. 39).

    Marc's symbols of this new transcendent age came to be predominately personified by animals and later evolved into a synthesis of the animal and its environment. His intense preoccupation with the depiction of animals was inspired by the deep emotional bond that he felt with them. Animals were a key feature of the Marc household; his Siberian sheepdog, Russi, followed him almost everywhere he went, and later in life he fulfilled his long-cherished dream of owning two deer which he called Schlik and Hanni. In his recollections of Marc, Kandinsky later recalled that he adored his deer 'as if they were his own children' (W. Kandinsky quoted in S. Partsch, Franz Marc 1880 – 1916, Pioneer of Abstract Painting, Cologne, 1916, p. 38).

    From 1910 onwards, Marc made regular references to the animal and art in his writings and published papers, however he was keen to distance himself from the descriptive style of traditional animal painting: 'My aims lie not in the direction of specialised animal painting. I seek a good, pure and lucid style in which at least part of what modern painters have to say to me can be fully assimilated. trying to achieve a pantheistic empathy with the throbbing and racing of the blood in nature, in trees, in animals, in the air' (F. Marc quoted in S. Partsch, ibid., p. 36).

    It was this 'pantheistic empathy' with nature that resulted in, what Marc termed, the 'animalisation of art'. Namely, a pictorial vision of the world as seen from within the animating forces of life itself: 'The aim of his painting was not just to depict nature but to show that nature lives, not to portray 'the deer' as such...but to portray how the deer feels' (A. Hoberg, op. cit., p. 43). He wanted to perceive the inner-workings of nature through an empathy with the natural world and its beings, to see the world as if through eyes of animals themselves. In an essay entitled 'How does a horse see the world', Marc questioned, 'Is there a more mysterious idea for an artist than perhaps how nature is reflected in the eye of an animal? How does a horse or an eagle see the world, or deer or a dog? How pathetic and soulless is our convention of putting animals in a landscape that belongs to our eyes instead of putting ourselves into the soul of the animal in order to guess the images they see' (F. Marc quoted in A. Hoberg, ibid., p. 43).

    The horse in particular held a special prominence within Marc's iconography and was often the chosen animal to convey his spiritual vision. Many of Marc's most important works depict the image of the horse and certain paintings have come to be regarded as idealised self-portraits. Marc was already familiar with the motif of the horse as a prominent symbol within Romantic painting to denote power and grace within nature. These majestic creatures were frequently depicted by artists such as Delacroix, Géricault and von Marées, and their interactions with human figures within a composition often represented the reconnection of man with the forces of nature. Marc spent many hours copying the work of von Marées and perfecting his knowledge of horse anatomy. He made countless trips to pastures and paddocks to study their typical movements and to record the specific function of joints and muscles.

    With its expressive yet purified line, deftly wrought to describe the horse in motion – head turned back and nuzzled toward the neck, the front leg raised in skittish excitement - Pferd stands testament to Marc's profound knowledge of the horse and its movement. His simplification of form and monochromatic technique was likely inspired by his appreciation of Japanese woodcuts. It was in Paris in 1903 that Marc had acquired his first prints from Japan, and their two-dimensional character expressed through the linear idiom, would undoubtedly influence the subsequent direction of his art. The distillation of form towards abstraction, enabled Marc to create autonomous symbols which gestured towards his conceptualisation of the new unity between creatures and the cosmos.

    Marc's extensive sketchbooks reveal the way in which he repeated motifs to attain the most purified and powerful composition. Rotes Pferdchen (A. Hoberg & I. Jansen, Franz Marc, The Complete Works, Vol. III, Sketchbooks and Prints, p. 223, from sketchbook XXV, unpaginated), also realised in 1912, is undoubtedly a study for the present work. The pose is an exact mirror image of Pferd with the same leg raised and head turned back towards the neck. This mirroring technique is also apparent in another sketch and large work on paper both also from 1912. Liegender Stier (A. Hoberg & I. Jansen, ibid., Vol. III, p. 214, from sketchbook XXV, p. 7) is undoubtedly the prior work for Liegender roter Stier (A. Hoberg & I. Jansen, op. cit., Vol. II, no. 201) where, in the large tempera work, Marc has softened and aggrandised the hulk of the bull and organic form to its rear to lend the work a more harmonious and stylised effect. Marc reworked the motif of the bull lying down numerous times in sketches, oils and large works on paper between 1911 and 1913.

    Marc's introduction to Kandinsky in early 1911 truly ignited his passion for colour and its symbolic effects. Writing to his wife shortly after their meeting, Marc exclaimed 'The other morning I walked to the Kandinsky's! The hours at his house are among my most memorable experiences. He showed me a lot, older as well as the newest things. The latter are tremendously strong; I derive pleasure from his strong, pure fiery colours from the first moment' (F. Marc quoted in A. Hoberg, op. cit., p. 33). Marc was at this time already a supporter of Kandinsky's group, the Neue Künstlervereinigung in Munich, an association which had been dubbed the 'Bavarian Fauves', and he was quick to appreciate Kandinsky's views on colour harmony and the expressive power of pure colour to convey spiritual effects. A letter to Auguste Macke in December 1910, already shows a complete accordance with Kandinsky's view of blue as the colour of the spirit: 'Blue is the male principle, severe and spiritual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, cheerful and sensual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy, the colour that has to come into conflict with, and succumb to, the other two!...Now, if you mix blue and yellow to obtain green, you awaken 'red' matter, the earth- to life. Green always requires the aid of blue (the sky) and yellow (the sun) to reduce matter to silence' (K. Lankheit, Franz Marc, Watercolours, Drawings, Writings, London, 1960, p. 16). Marc's discovery of the symbolic potential of colour released from naturalism, brought about a great surge of creativity and would continue to inform his practice for the rest of his career.

    Synthesising pure pigment and elementary form, Pferd shows Marc exploring the potential of colour and symbol to render a holistic and spiritualised vision of the world around him. The work is a tantalising example of the development of Marc's work during the short years of the Blaue Reiter group and holds further importance as one of the few examples of German Expressionism in England during the early years of the twentieth century. With its exceptional provenance, large format and emblematic style, Pferd remains one of the most exciting works by Franz Marc to be presented to the market in recent years.
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