A former architecture student, Erich Heckel founded the artists' group Brücke (Bridge) in Dresden in 1905, together with Fritz Bleyl, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The bold coloring and sharp angularity of his portraits, nudes, bathers, and cabaret performers helped define the German Expressionist aesthetic in painting and printmaking.
During his lifetime, Heckel completed more than one thousand prints, the vast majority between 1905 and 1923. He made hundreds of etchings and lithographs, but is most acclaimed for his woodcuts, which display a radical flatness and simplification of form. He created Fränzi Reclining by sawing the woodblock into pieces, inking each part separately, and then reassembling them for printing, a jigsaw-puzzle technique derived from Edvard Munch, the Norwegian painter whose highly experimental approach to printmaking was emulated by Brücke artists.
Heckel's model, twelve-year-old Fränzi, was a favorite of the Brücke members; they responded to her awkward poses, so typical of adolescence and so unlike those of conventional models. The exaggerated masklike features of her face were inspired in part by the artist's study of African sculptures at the Dresden Ethnological Museum.
After moving from Dresden to Berlin in 1911, along with other Brücke artists, Heckel turned increasingly to themes of melancholy and isolation. By 1913 the Brücke group had disbanded, and in 1915 Heckel went off to war. Portrait of a Man, a gaunt self-portrait created in the difficult months just after the war ended, manifests a psychic weariness that may be interpreted as broadly symbolic of the German people at that time. Technically, it demonstrates Heckel's ongoing eagerness to experiment with printmaking processes. The colored areas were applied to the wood with a brush rather than with the more common ink roller. The thick brushstrokes create a painterly surface that contrasts with the deliberate flatness in his earlier work.
from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 56
Fränzi, shown here at the age of twelve, posed frequently for Heckel and other German Expressionists, who were drawn to the natural, yet awkward, positions that she assumed because they were so unlike the artificial stances of professional models. The woodcut medium was a perfect vehicle to express thick, angular outlines for her figure, with its distorted arm and jagged fingers, and exaggerated masklike features for her face. This bold new imagery found its source in African sculptures that Heckel had studied in the Dresden Ethnological Museum.
Heckel also took a cue from Edvard Munch, the Norwegian painter much admired by Brücke artists, and employed one of his unusual printing techniques. Like Munch, he sawed the woodblock into pieces, cutting out the three red background areas, inking the components separately, and then reassembling them like a jigsaw puzzle before printing.
Cataloged in Text Editor by title in German: Franzi liegend
from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 58