Franz Marc was born in 1880 in Munich, then the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria. His father, Wilhelm, was a professional landscape painter, and his mother Sophie was a strict Calvinist. In 1900, Marc began to study at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, where his teachers would include Gabriel von Hackl and Wilhelm von Diez. In 1903 and 1907 he spent time in France, particularly in Paris, visiting the city's museums and copying many paintings, a traditional way that artists studied and developed technique. In Paris, Marc frequented artistic circles, and was able to meet numerous artists, including the actress Sarah Bernhardt. He discovered a strong affinity for the work of Vincent van Gogh.
During his 20s, Marc was involved in a number of stormy relationships, including a years-long affair with Annette von Eckardt, a married antique dealer who was nine years his elder. He married twice, first to Marie Schnuer, then to Maria Franck.
In 1906, Marc traveled with his brother, a Byzantine expert, to Saloniki, Mount Athos, and various other Greek locations. A few years later in 1910, Marc developed an important friendship with the artist August Macke.
In 1911 Marc founded the Der Blaue Reiter journal, which became the center of an artist circle with Macke, Wassily Kandinsky, and others who decided to split off from the Neue Künstlervereinigung (New artist's association) movement.
Marc showed several of his works in the first Der Blaue Reiter exhibition at the Thannhauser Galleries in Munich between December 1911 and January 1912. The apex of the German expressionist movement, the exhibit also showed in Berlin, Köln, Hagen, and Frankfurt. In 1912, Marc met Robert Delaunay, whose use of color and futurist method was a major influence on Marc's work. Fascinated by futurism and cubism, Marc created art increasingly stark and abstract in nature.
After mobilization of the German Army during World War I, the government identified notable artists to be withdrawn from combat to protect them. Marc was on the list, but before orders for reassignment could reach him, he was struck in the head and killed instantly in 1916 by a shell splinter during the Battle of Verdun.
Marc made some sixty prints, in woodcut and lithography. Most of his mature work portrays animals, usually in natural settings. His work is characterized by bright primary color, an almost cubist portrayal of animals, stark simplicity and a profound sense of emotion. His work attracted notice in influential circles even in his own time. Marc gave an emotional meaning or purpose to the colors he used in his work: blue was used for masculinity and spirituality, yellow represented feminine joy, and red encased the sound of violence. After the National Socialists took power, they suppressed modern art; in 1936 and 1937, the Nazis condemned Marc as an entarteter Künstler' (degenerate artist), and ordered that approximately 130 of his works be taken from exhibit in German museums.
Franz Marc's best-known painting is probably "Tierschicksale" (also known as Animal Destinies or Fate of the Animals), which hangs in the Kunstmuseum Basel. Marc completed the work in 1913, when "the tension of impending cataclysm had pervaded society", as one art historian noted. On the rear of the canvas, Marc wrote, "And all being is flaming agony". Conscripted during World War I, Marc wrote to his wife of the painting, it "is like a premonition of this war: horrible and shattering. I can hardly conceive that I painted it".