Marc's spectacularly colorful Der Wasserfall is a pivotal work of the German Expressionist movement, created at the dawning of a new era in 20th century painting. It was completed in 1912, the same year that the seminal Blue Rider Almanac made its debut in Munich. Marc and Wassily Kandinsky co-edited this publication, and in it they promoted a new artistic movement that rejected the regimented and systematized restrictions of urban life. Marc in particular championed freedom of expression and a spiritualized, somewhat mystical, approach to representing the natural world. This new type of art had aesthetic similarities to the wildly colorful compositions that the Fauves produced a few years earlier in France. But the creative efforts and philosophies of Der Blaue Reiter group, as Marc, Kandinsky and their fellow collaborating artists came to be known, resulted in some of the most extraordinary pictures produced in central Europe in the years before the war.
Marc Rosenthal explains the premise behind this new type of painting: "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" (Marc Rosenthal, Franz Marc in America, Berkeley, 1979, p. 23).
Marc published several treatises in the Almanac expounding upon his ideas that were the driving force behind his paintings. "In this time of the great struggle for a new art we fight like disorganized 'savages' against an old, established power," he wrote in an essay evoking the Fauves and titled "The Savages of Germany." His aim, he said, was to create "symbols that belong on the altars of a future spiritual religion, symbols behind which the technical heritage cannot be seen." In Marc's painting, these symbols often took the form of animals - representations of purity, naturalism and a rejection of urban existence (see fig. 5). Populated with several of these mystical creatures, Der Wasserfall was a manifestation of Marc's artistic musings, and has come to be regarded as one of the artist's most important compositions.
Marc painted Der Wasserfall in Sindelsdorf, a small town on the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. Similar to the Impressionists before him, Marc and his colleagues August Macke and Heinrich Campendonk wanted to escape the city and seek inspiration from the countryside. In 1910 he moved to this area because he was attracted by its bucolic splendor and the abundance of farm life. For the present composition, Marc chose as his subject one of nature's most dramatic and powerful spectacles -- a waterfall. He would later return to this motif in 1913 with Die Verzauberte Mühle (see fig. 3), but in the present work, the natural formation and its surroundings define the rhythm of the composition. Marc was conscious to create here a true representation of the direction that his art would take over the next several years. He makes the unusual choice of including human figures along with animals in this composition, as if to underscore the harmony between the human and animal kingdom. He unifies all of these elements through a series of colorful diagonal formations. Most strategically placed is the blue and white spill of the falls that reiterates the movements of the figures. Marc explained to August Macke that his coloration was not arbitrary and that his color choices represented specific characteristics, "Blue is the male principle, severe, bitter, spiritual and intellectual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, cheerful, and sensual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy, the color that must be fought and overcome by the other two!" (quoted in Angelica Zander Rudensteine, The Guggenheim Museum Collection: Paintings 1880-1945, vol. II, New York, 1976, p. 493).
Marc's rhythmic style here may have been inspired by the energized, linear compositions of the Italian Futurists (see fig. 4), who were a noted influence on his art. But there are also other stylistic influences at play in this picture, most notably that of Gauguin. The crouching figures in the foreground are reminiscent of Gauguin's Tahitian women, although their gestures are more tightly compressed suggesting a level of anxiety foreign to Gauguin's exotic world. Marc had made several sketches of these figures (see Sketchbook XV, 1909/10 and Sketchbook XXVIII, 1912/13) and obviously took great care in rendering them with the most dramatic posturing. Yet his desire to show nature in its primitive and unfettered state is perfectly realized here. This landscape of towering rocks and rapid falls has a strong primal and mystical quality that is totally opposed to the pastoral and realistic aesthetic of academic landscape painting.
This picture was once in the collection of Marie von Schintling, who acquired this work around 1917 and kept it in her collection in Germany. In 1939 she sent the painting to the New York dealer Curt Valentin so that it could be exhibited on the occassion of the San Francisco Golden Gate Exhibition. The painting remained in the United States throughout World War II, and it was eventually sold to the American collector Samuel G. Dretzin and then to the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
This work has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition, Marc, Macke and Delaunay. The Beauty of a Fragile World (1910-1914), to be held at the Sprengel Museum, Hannover from February 15 through May 10, 2009.
Fig. 1, Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky with the title woodcut of the 'Der Blaue Reiter' Almanac, on the balcony at Ainmillerstraße, Munich 1911-12, Photograph: Gabriele Münter und Johannes Eichner-Stiftung, Munich
Fig. 2, Franz Marc in the reeds near Brunnenbach, 1911, taken by Jean-Bloé Niestlé Photograph: Private collection
Fig. 3, Franz Marc, Die Verzauberte Mühle (The Bewitched Mill), 1913, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection
Fig. 4, Giacomo Balla, Velocità astratta - L'auto è passata, 1913, oil on burlap, Tate Gallery, London
Fig. 5, Franz Marc, Der Traum (The Dream), 1912, oil on canvas, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Oil on canvas
Frankfurt-am-Main, Kunstsalon Ludwig Schames, Franz Marc, 1912, no. 1
65 by 62 1/2 in. 165.5 by 158.5 cm
Briefwechsel, Maria Marc's letter to August and Lisbeth Macke, May 17, 1912, p. 122
Herwarth Walden, Einblick in Kunst. Expressionismus, Futurismus, Kubismus, Berlin, 1917, illustrated p. 47
Herwarth Walden, Expressionismus: die Kunstwende, Berlin, 1918, illustrated p. 32
Alois Schardt, Franz Marc, Berlin, 1936, no. 1-1912-9, listed p. 164
Klaus Lankheit, Franz Marc, Katalog der Werke, Cologne, 1970, no. 171, illustrated p. 60
Marc Rosenthal, Franz Marc in America, Berkeley, 1979
Roland März, Franz Marc, Berlin, 1984, no. 13, illustrated
Marc Rosenthal, Franz Marc, Munich, 1989, no. 36, illustrated p. 107
Hajo Düchting, Franz Marc, Cologne, 1991, no. 46, illustrated p. 106
Roland Mönig, Franz Marc und Georg Trakl. Ein Beitrag zum Vergleich von Malerei und Dichtung des Expressionismus, Münster, 1996, discussed p.152 and illustrated pl. 21
Franz Marc: Kräfte der Natur, Werke 1912-1915 (exhibition catalogue), Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster, 1994, p. 28, no. 8 and no. 1, illustrated p. 192
Annegret Hoberg and Isabelle Jansen, Franz Marc, The Complete Works, Volume I, The Oil Paintings, London, 2004, no. 174, illustrated p. 195
Galerie Der Sturm, Berlin
Marie von Schintling, Staudach im Chiemgau (by 1917)
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York (by 1939)
Alien Property Custodian (vested in the Custodian under Vesting Order No. 3711, May 29, 1944)
Samuel G. Dretzin, New York (acquired from the above January 23, 1945)
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (by 1946 and sold: Sotheby's, London, July 3, 1974, lot 83)
The Robert Gore Rifkind Charitable Remainder Unitrust (acquired at the above sale through Gallery Lumley-Cazalet, London and sold: Sotheby's, London, October 6, 1999, lot 125)
Acquired at the above sale