Erich Heckel

Erich Heckel (*31 July 1883 in Döbeln, † 27 January 1970 in Radolfzell) was a German painter and graphic artist.

Erich Heckel and the Brücke artists' group

The artist achieved international fame through his involvement in the Expressionist artists' group "Brücke", which included Otto Mueller, Max Pechstein and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Erich Heckel began studying architecture at the Technical University in Dresden in 1904. There he made the acquaintance of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl at an early age. Together with Kirchner, Bleyl and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, the painter founded the artists' group "Brücke" in 1905. The "Brücke" artists were united by a strong group idea. The turn to clear, brightly used colour and the radical reduction of details gave the members of the "Brücke" a major role in the development of modernism in Germany.

A year later Heckel met Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde, and became friends with Gustav Schiefler (art collector, patron of the arts) and Dr Rosa Schapire (art historian/collector). From 1906-1910, the artist travelled several times to Dangast (North Sea) and to the Moritzburg Lakes (Saxony).

In spring 1910 Heckel met Otto Mueller in Berlin. The following year he moved to Berlin and took over Mueller's studio in Berlin-Steglitz.

In 1912 the artist took part in the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne. This event led to a friendship with Lyonel Feininger and Dr. Walter Kaesbach, who was an important supporter of Expressionist art. The artist's first special exhibition took place in 1913 at the Gurlitt Gallery in Berlin. In the same year, the "Brücke" disbanded.

Erich Heckel's 10s and 20s

During the First World War, from 1915 to 1918, he worked as a medic in Flanders. There he met Max Beckmann. Heckel's marriage to Hilda Frieda Georgi, known as Siddi, also took place during this time. After the war, the painter returned to Berlin.
From 1919 Heckel was a (founding) member of the "Arbeitsrat für Kunst" in Berlin. He temporarily joined the "Novembergruppe". Through contacts he was commissioned in 1922 to paint a room in the Angermuseum (Erfurt) with a mural cycle in secco technique. It is the only mural by a Brücke artist that has survived to this day. In the years 1920-1944, the artist undertook regular working trips that spanned many Western European countries. Inspired by a wide variety of landscapes, a rich yield of different watercolours in muted, harmonious shades emerged during these years.

Heckel's time during and after National Socialism

In 1937 Heckel was banned from exhibiting by the National Socialists. In the course of the "Degenerate Art" campaign, 729 of his works were confiscated from German museums. When his studio in Berlin was destroyed in 1944, Heckel moved to Hemmenhofen on Lake Constance. After the war, from 1949 to 1955, he received a professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe. In the years that followed, Erich Heckel was awarded numerous prizes and honours, including the Federal Cross of Merit in 1956 and the Art Prize of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1961. Erich Heckel died in Radolfzell on Lake Constance on 27 January 1970.

Erich Heckel's visual language

Heckel's oeuvre is influenced by his life. From 1908 the artist left his early, impasto work behind him and switched to two-dimensional representation. After the dissolution of the "Brücke" he began to break up pure colours, to twist forms. Solid and angular contours now define what is depicted. In terms of form, this change can be attributed to the model of the woodcut. Heckel produced numerous works in both painting and printmaking techniques.
After the First World War, he developed a classicism that showed itself through a closeness to nature and a brightening of the colour palette.
His preferred subject matter continued to be landscapes, portraits and bathing scenes, but now floral still lifes with complex backgrounds were added. The once powerful, ecstatic expression of colour gave way to a harmonious, gentle depiction of objects.

Landschaft, 1922, watercolor on paper, 53 × 64,5 cm


Studies architecture in Dresden. Friendship with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl.
Co-founder of the artists' group "Brücke".
Encounter with Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde.
Friendship with Gustav Schiefler and Dr. Rosa Schapire.
Recurring stays in Dangast and at the Moritzburg Lakes.
Friendship with Otto Mueller.
Move to Berlin.
Participation in the Sonderbund exhibition, Cologne.
Friendship with Lyonel Feininger and Dr. Walter Kaesbach.
As a paramedic in Flanders: Roeselaere and Ostend. Encounter with Max Beckmann. Friendship with James Ensor. Marriage to Hilde Frieda Georgi (Sidi).
Founding member of the "Arbeitsrat für Kunst", Berlin. Temporary member of the "Novembergruppe", Berlin.
Exhibition at the Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover. Friendship with Paul Klee.
Exhibition ban. 729 works are confiscated by the National Socialists.
Destruction of the Berlin studio. Numerous works and all printing blocks are destroyed.
Professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts, Karlsruhe.

Artist groups

The artist group Brücke

The artists' group "Brücke" was founded in Dresden in 1905 by architecture students Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Since none of them had completed any artistic studies, there is no art-theoretical approach as a fundament behind the group, unlike in the case of the "Blaue Reiter". What is ostensible is an urge for public visibility and recognition outside civic society. The group is an unconventional form of living community which reflects a uniform artistic style. 1910 marks the peak of the "bridge style", which is characterised, among other things, by intense colour contrasts, coarsening of forms and simplification of motifs. This sometimes develops from the preferred use of various printing techniques, such as woodcut and etching. The artists' main focus is on working quickly and intuitively in the outdoors and interpreting nature in a way that expresses one's senses. When the artists moved to Berlin in 1911, the urban environment became increasingly present in their lives and oeuvres. After increasing estrangement, the artists eventually separated in 1913. For a time, Hermann Max Pechstein, Otto Mueller and Emil Nolde, among others, joined the group and influenced the development of the "Brücke". Today, the works of the artists from the "Brücke" are considered, along with those of the "Blaue Reiter", to be the most important evidence of German Expressionism and can be found in many renowned art collections.

Classical Modernism

Classical Modernism comprises various art and style movements of the first half of the 20th century. Especially across countries, there is a great heterogeneity of the arts, whereby not all artists and works can be clearly categorised. Classical Modernism includes not only the visual arts but also design, architecture and photography. The tremendous wealth of currents and tendencies in Classical Modernism shows similarities and differences and proves how strong the exchange among artists is beyond national borders and stylistic movements. Alongside the artists of Expressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, New Objectivity and various other avant-garde movements, painters such as Marc Chagall, Marino Marini, Lovis Corinth, Marcel Duchamp, Egon Schiele, Hannah Höch, Maria Lassnig, Max Ernst, Robert Delaunay and Paul Klee belong to Classical Modernism.

New Group

The "Neue Gruppe" was formed in Munich shortly after the Second World War in 1946/47. Artists from the "Neue Secession", whose art was considered "degenerate" by the National Socialists and was banned, joined forces to make a new start. Among them were Max Beckmann, Willi Baumeister, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Lothar Fischer, Erich Heckel, Max Kaus, Horst Antes, Konrad Klapheck, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Max Pechstein and Fritz Winter. After the experiences of the preceding dictatorship, they declared a free, tolerant approach in all areas of the visual arts to be their primary goal. The association still exists today as the "Artists' Association Haus der Kunst Munich" after the "Neue Gruppe", "Münchner Sezession" and the "Neue Münchner Künstlergenossenschaft" jointly founded the "Exhibition Administration Haus der Kunst Munich".

New Secession

November Group

The "Novembergruppe" was founded in Berlin in 1918, shortly after the November Revolution. Until its dissolution in 1933 when the National Socialists seized power, over 170 artists were members of this trend-setting movement. Initiated by Max Pechstein and César Klein, the association brought together artists working in the Expressionist, Futurist and Cubist movements such as Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, Alexej von Jawlensky, Willi Baumeister, Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Mueller and Christian Rohlfs. This syncretism also asserts itself in the unification of art, music, architecture, theatre and philosophy that the group advocates. Members asked for a say in matters of art policy, such as the acquisition of art for public collections, art policy and the provision of exhibition space.