German Expressionism

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Erich Heckel

German, 1883–1970

Starr Figura, German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 2011

Painter, printmaker. One of four architecture students in Dresden who formed the Brücke group in 1905; served as its business manager. Early paintings and prints focus on nudes in the studio, cabaret themes, and landscapes created during intermittent retreats with fellow Brücke artists. In 1910 met future wife, dancer Sidi Riha, the subject of many portraits. Followed Brücke members to Berlin in 1911. During World War I was stationed in Belgium with Red Cross medical corps headed by art historian Walter Kaesbach, who ensured Heckel continued to paint and make prints. While there became close with James Ensor and met Max Beckmann. In 1918 returned to Berlin and joined socialist artists’ organizations, including the Novembergruppe. During war and postwar years created many portraits, self-portraits, and landscapes embodying spiritual isolation and melancholy. Output also reflects his long engagement with modern works of philosophy and literature, including those by Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Used printmaking as a means for radically simplifying and flattening compositions. Made more than one thousand prints over career, almost three-quarters between 1903 and 1923; most were self-printed in small editions, although after 1910 collaborated on occasion with Berlin-based publishers, including Paul Cassirer, Fritz Gurlitt, and J. B. Neumann. Reprinted some early woodcuts in 1950s.

Nazis prohibited him from exhibiting and confiscated 729 works from public collections. Studio and its contents in Berlin destroyed during World War II.

Selected Bibliography

Dube, Annemarie, and Wolf-Dieter Dube. Erich Heckel: Das graphische Werk. 3 vols. New York: E. Rathenau, 1964–74.

Moeller, Magdalena M., ed. Erich Heckel: Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik aus dem Brücke-Museum Berlin. Exh. cat. Berlin: Brücke-Museum, 1991.

Moeller, Magdalena M., and Meike Hoffmann, eds. Erich Heckel: Meisterwerke des Expressionismus: Aquarelle und Zeichnungen aus der Sammlung des Brücke-Museums Berlin. Exh. cat. Berlin: Brücke-Museum, 1999.

Heather Hess

Published by Erich Heckel

  • Erich Heckel. Otto Mueller. 1930
    Erich Heckel
    Otto Mueller
    Erich Heckel. Otto Mueller. 1930
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