Franz Marc Museum

We had a fantastic summer holiday this year, in a place called Kochel am See, in Bavaria. A wonderful area which is a frontier between a lake district and the Alps. Stunning mountains on your doorstep, wonderful walks, great places to see and up to now, not over run by tourists; at least, not by non – Germans!

We have mixed feelings about this, because undiscovered gems make for peaceful holidays, but one hopes that the locals can survive, as well.

There is good accommodation, everything from self catering guest houses, to B&Bs, hotels, etc. We stayed at the Grauer Bär (the Grey Bear) which is right on the lake itself and has an excellent free spa-wellness area for guests.

At any rate, 10 minutes walk away from our hotel, in the middle of the woods, is a non-assuming world-class art gallery, dedicated to the Blauer Reiter or Blue Rider group.

The movement basically lasted from 1911 to 1914 and central to this group was Franz Marc, Kandinsky, August Macke, Jawlensky and  several others. Paul Klee was also a part of the group. Tragically, Marc and Macke died in the First World War, in combat; one of the reasons the movement was so short lived. It was an important component of Expressionism, and the group wanted to express beauty, harmony and the spiritual through their art.

The colour blue was important, hence the name. For Kandinsky, blue expressed spirituality, for Marc, an abstract beauty (some of his most famous works are the blue horses), but one can also appreciate the incredible natural beauty and yes, the blue in the local landscape; water, mountains, sunny skies, blue dusks, and so on.

For much of the time they were based in nearby Murnau, and there and in Munich there are also beautiful works on display, but let’s focus on the Kochel Museum.

It started as a simple large house and in the summer of 2008 an abstract cubed wing was added, most successfully, I think.

The buildings sit in gently rolling hills, next to a forest and across the street from lake Kochel.

There are paths through the woods and you can access the museum on foot from various starting points, or by car. Good parking is available and there are also cycle paths, but some are rather steep! There are wonderful large sculptures dotted along the grounds and you can’t help but appreciate how harmoniously the whole place has been set up.

Fundamental to any gallery experience is good coffee and cake and the museum is also blessed by having a branch of the local  Zum Fischmeister restaurant inside or outside on a chic terrace; generally justified by pretty good weather!

I’m very lucky to have a German wife, so my great linguistic shortcomings were compensated for. The Germans have very good English, but as this area is a little off the beaten track, not everyone speaks English and generally the museum is focused on a German audience, although they will be adding English to their website and I got a pretty good English-translated  catalogue.

The galleries are beautiful, with huge windows letting in lots of light and looking out on the forests. Just stunning.  They also have seminars, mutimedia presentations about the Blue rider group, etc. And the art!! Not only Blue Rider works, but everything form drawings (including a pretty good Picasso), prints, paintings (including the Jazz series by Matisse) an early Beckman print, and some galleries with wonderful Abstract Expressionistic and other pieces.

This museum really is world class and you’d want to spend  at least two days just sitting with the works, taking your time and looking.

I really wouldn’t know where to start, so here are just a few examples of Marc’s work:

Composition IV, done in 1913-14 is a stunning abstract piece similar to Kandinsky’s Cossacks, but even more abstract.  It’s well placed near a window, where a little diffuse light (but not too much) helps illuminate it.

Haystacks in the Snow, from 1911 is just beautiful. I can recall seeing a print of this in an artbook many moons ago and had almost forgotten how powerful and iconographic it is. It’s deceptively simple and gives a beautiful sense of atmosphere and calm. It’s striking to see the powerful oranges and greens work against the snow, making the painting really sing.

Leaping Horse, from 1912, differs quite a bit from Marc’s more known animal paintings. It’s recognisable as a horse, but nonetheless more angular and abstract. The colours are a little muted (though wonderful) and there is a good sense of the process involved in painting.

I won’t even try to talk about the Kandinskys, Klees, Muellers, etc etc or the more modern abstract pieces. Just get out there and see this place for yourself!


Signal Arts Newsletter of April-June 2008

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