Franz Marc's sensitive depictions of horses in a landscape are widely recognised as the most characteristic and personal subjects in his oeuvre. In December 1908 he famously declared that he was working "towards an animalization of art":
“I am seeking a feeling for the organic rhythm in all things” he wrote, “a pantheistic empathy into the shaking and flowing of the blood in nature, in trees, in animals, in the air... I see no happier means to the 'animalisation of art' as I would like to call it than the animal picture. Therefore I treat it accordingly” (Franz Marc, Schriften, K. Lankheit (ed.), Cologne, 1978, p. 98).
Animals were for Marc superior to human beings in the respect that they responded to and lived closer to nature than modern man. Inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche in the seeking of a new age of the spirit, which would be opposed to the empirical and materialist ethics of newly industrialised Germany, Franz Marc's portend for this new era was the animal. The artist maintained that the serenity of animals and their relationship with nature held the key to man's own evolution and spiritual salvation. As Drei Pfrede mit abstrakten Formen shows, it was essentially the mystic connection between animals and the universe that Marc sought to express in his art.
“How does a horse see the world, how does an eagle, a deer or a dog? How impoverished, soulless is our convention of placing animals in a landscape familiar to our own eyes rather than transporting ourselves into the soul of the animal in order to divine its visual world […] we will no longer paint a forest or a horse the way we like them or as they seem to us, but as they really are, as the forest and the horse feel themselves to be, their absolute essence which lives beneath the semblance which we see” (quoted in S. Partsch, Franz Marc, Cologne, 1991, pp. 38&39).
Drei Pferde mit abstrakten Formen is significant for the way in which it also reveals Marc's interpretation of the work of the Italian Futurists. The curving lines of the horse's body, and the rhythmic curves radiating through the work convey a forceful impression of power and movement. On 12 April 1912, Berlin was taken by storm by the Futurist exhibition mounted at Herwath Walden's celebrated Der Sturm Gallery which included paintings by Severini, Balla, Boccioni and Marc.
By 1913 Marc's approach had matured to a more elegant style as can be seen on the famous postcards written to the poet Else Lasker-Schüler and Wassily Kandinsky and in the present drawing.
The present work is one of 26 drawings from Franz Marc’s sketchbook XXIX, executed in 1913, which included only 4 drawings with horses. Annegret Hoberg and Isabelle Jansen said about this sketchbook that “the coloured abstract forms … stand out in particular, as do compact images of horses in a landscape setting” such as our drawing (A. Hoberg & I. Jansen, Franz Marc, The Complete Works, vol. III, Sketchbooks and Prints, Munich, 2011, p. 248).