At the turn of the century, Franz Marc was part of an avant-garde circle of Russian and German painters known as Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). With fellow members Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke, and others, Marc explored the psychological effects of color and line in daring abstract compositions. Following a doctrine of "inner necessity," The Blue Rider ceased representing the "real" world and, instead, painted visions derived from the "inner mind."
Marc's The Large Blue Horses is an excellent example of The Blue Rider's use of color and line to symbolize universal principles. Marc chose animals as his subject because he believed in their "purer, more sublime relationship with the world," and he used abstract color (a brilliant blue) and line (the curving of the horses' necks) to communicate their spiritual harmony with nature.
The Large Blue Horses occupies a special place in the Walker Art Center's history as the first major modernist work to enter the collection. The painting was purchased in 1942 through the Gilbert M. Walker Memorial Fund, which had been established in the early 1940s to encourage a shift in the museum's collecting practices toward the contemporary and modern. Between 1942 and 1948, 60 works of art were purchased using this fund. In the years since, the Walker's permanent collection has continued to serve as a strong representation of 20th-century art practices.