It would be no uneasy statement to proclaim that an early, untimely death is the cruellest fact of life. Never is this truer than in the early death of an artist, cut down just as his or her career is about to take off, or at some point when that artist is at his or her peak creatively. Recently I mentioned the death at the age of 39 of Cubist artist, Juan Miro. Often war is the culprit. In November of 1870, the Impressionist artist, Frederic Bazille was killed in the battle of Beaune-la-Rolande during the Franco-Prussian war, the only one of the Impressionists to suffer such a fate. And World War I also took its toll on artists both psychologically and in terms of casualties, especially in the case of the German Expressionists. Artists such as Max Beckman found his work deeply effected by his war experiences as did Ernst Kirchner, and Egon Schiele who died during the war. Perhaps most tragic, was the death of Der Blaue Reiter artist, Franz Marc (also a German Expressionist) as a result of this war.
Marc was born in 1880. He was 36 when he was killed in the trenches in 1916. He was a gentle soul but one of gloomy disposition. However in looking at his brightly coloured paintings, one wouldn't come away with such an impression. With the disintegration of the first German Expressionist movement, Die Brücke (The Bridge) around 1910, Marc, August Macke, and Wassily Kandinsky formed the core of what was to become a second German Expressionist movement, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Whereas Die Brücke had been a purely artistic order, Der Blaue Reiter was a much broader, more intellectual, romantic, and somewhat spiritual association that was at the same time much more loosely organised philosophically, with fewer artistic constraints.
While Macke painted elegantly expressive, figural work and Kandinsky veered off toward abstraction, Marc became enamoured with animals which he saw as the keepers of innocence and uncontaminated nature. One of the most beautiful expressionist paintings I've ever seen is his Deer in the Forest II, painted in 1914. It's a dramatically colourful, stained glassy, visual exploration wherein one discovers first one, then a second, then a third larger deer emerging into our consciousness as we accustom our eyes to Marc's Cubist way of seeing the spiritual beauty of nature as epitomised by these gentle creatures. It's an old saying but it comes to mind as we consider the tragedy of death that is so intimately a part of the nature Franz Marc worshipped: "Only the good die young."