Fate of the Animals

The Franz Marc (1880-1916) painting Tierschicksale, also known as "Animal Destinies" or "Fate of the Animals", is an apocalyptic image of nature, where terror and stress constrain the environment. Expressionism makes use of colour to show feeling, which Marc combined with directional light to show animals in peril, caught in a series of almost prismatic lines, and unable to escape their fate.

Marc painted one year before the outbreak of war, a record of the products of industrial revolution and forestry. The original title, "The Trees Show their Rings, the Animals their Veins" Die Bäume zeigten ihre Ringe, die Tiere ihre Adern, revealed in a letter to his friend August Macke (1887-1914) of 22nd May 1913, suggests a wish to push "behind the veil of appearance" to the "other side" to seek "the hidden things in nature... the inner spiritual side of nature."

The painting is on public display in the Basel Kunstmuseum, in Switzerland.


  • 1913 - While living in Sindelsdorf Marc paints Tierschicksale in the summer.
  • 1915 - In the early spring, while stationed at the front, Marc received a letter from his friend and patron Bernard Koehler - on the front of this card was a reproduction of this painting - and he "was startled and astonished by its immediate impact upon me. I saw it as a completely strange work, a premonition of war that has something shocking about it. It is such a curious picture, as if it were created in a trance." Animals, including a blue deer, are caught up in a disastrous fire Brandkatastrophe: on the reverse side of the canvas, the artist had written the inscription, "and all being is flaming suffering Und alles Sein ist flammend Leid.
  • 1916 - The right side shows damage, sustained after a fire erupted in the storage area of the Sturm Gallery in Berlin, which was then painted over by his friend Paul Klee (1879-1940), although he chose not to attempt to replicate the uniquely transparent colours that were Marc's alone.

Animals, Symbolism and Metaphysics

In Christian iconography the deer is an animal associated with salvation. Marc invested colours with symbolic values (the blue deer). Use of imagery together with a selected palette of colours is a theme which recurs within art and painting:

  • The Green Lion is a widely used alchemical term - Vera Prima Materia of the philosopher' stone, and represents the living energies in nature.
  • The story of The Golden Fleece belonging to a winged ram is part of the narrative of Metamorphoses, along with other ancient legends, including that of Theseus and the Minotaur.
  • The Adoration of the Golden Calf is an Old Testament story retold by the French painter Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665).
  • Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) took another story from the Old Testament as the subject of his Vision After the Sermon. A black and white cow is included in the framing, but out of scale with the other figures. In his other works, he painted, a landscape with a pig and horse, and, a red cow. in "Nevermore" Gauguin included a raven, which held a special meaning to him; which is very much like the sort symbolism in Art Nouveau design, and on a par with Expressionist works (the blue deer of Franz Marc).

Edges and boundaries play their part in defining natural ecosystems. The English Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt depicted a habitat with natural boundaries in Our English Coasts ("Strayed Sheep") (1852).

Amazon Books
Image of Franz Marc: Oil Paintings v. 1: The Complete Works (Complete Works (Philip Wilson Publishers))
Author: Annegret Hoberg, Isabelle Jansen, Annegret Hoberg, Isabelle Jansen
Publisher: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd (2004)
Binding: Hardcover, 380 pages