These days we are reading about the ‘newly emerging war-zones’ in North Africa. No, it is not quite politically correct to call it a war; it is yet another ‘conflict’. But then let politicians use the correct terminologies, it doesn’t matter what laymen call it anyways. Whoever is right or wrong, fighting under whichever flag, the truth is that we still believe in settling scores using destruction, as if blood shedding is the easiest option to solve the matter.
At this time, I am inevitably thinking of two German expressionist painters who died ‘in the action’ and died too young at that – Franz Marc and August Macke, both of whom died in World War I.
Marc and Macke were not just some young artists but founder members of the German expressionist art group called ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ (The Blue Rider) founded along with the renowned artists like Kandinsky, Jawlensky and Gabriele Münter. Both Marc and Macke were admired and widely exhibited in their lifetime. Although Blue Rider as a group did not last long, as a thought it had a great impact on the developments in modern German art (and beyond) in the future.
When I first saw Marc Franz’s work in a book I was intrigued by his amazing style. Then I saw more of his paintings and the next thing I learnt about him was that he had died young and that he had died on the battle field of WW I. Died in the war?! An artist as important as him went on to fight some war?! It was definitely shocking. Soon I learnt about August Macke, who was a bit younger than Franz Marc and who clearly had a great influence of Marc on his own style. Another unfortunate similarity between the two is that he too lost his life in war, in fact 2 years before Marc Franz did. This was just too much for me to digest. Early exits are not a rare occurrence in the art world, sometimes on account of mishaps, fatal illnesses or suicides, but artists sent to fight wars and killed on the battlefields was quite a disturbing realization. Please note that they were not ‘war painters’ who were assigned to capture the war on canvas, but they went as soldiers enlisted in the German Imperial army just around the time when the war broke out.
Franz Marc (b.1880-d.1916) was a prolific printmaker and painter and is known for his bright palette of primary colors. His various paintings of horses and wild animals painted in his marked style had an amazing embodied movement and force. He was a great admirer of Van Gogh and his own style showed a great influence of the cubism movement. He died in one of the major battles of WW1 at Verdun, France.
August Macke (b.1887-d.1914) was just 27 years old when died at the warfront in Champagne, France. We can imagine what a vigorous young man he must have been just by looking at the large number of paintings he has left behind. And it is not just the number of paintings but the way he has painted them. He was presumably quite curious, eager to learn new things and connect with fellow artists. In his short artistic career before getting enlisted in the army, he travelled a lot, spent time with great artists like Paul Klee, Marc, and Kandinsky and also became a founder member of ‘Der Blaue Reiter’. Ironically his painting called ‘Farewell’, which captures the gloom of the wartime, happened to be his last work.
Here are a few more artists who died fighting as soldiers in wars and I’m sure there must be many more.
Frederic Bazille (b.1841-d.1870): French impressionist, died in the Franco-Prussian war.
Umberto Boccioni (b1882-d.1916): Italian painter and sculptor from ‘futurist’ movement. He died during the cavalry training after joining the artillery regiment in WW1.
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (b.1891-d.1915): French sculptor who is well-known for his forceful and direct carving style. He died in the WW1 in Northern France.
Issac Rosenberg (b.1890-d.1918): British poet and artist. Known for his terrific war poems and self portraits.
It is impossible to say what astonishing art these talented artists would have produced had their lives not been cut short by the ugly episodes of war.