Erich Heckel



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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 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.

World War I and 1920s

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 subjects 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.


1904 – Studies architecture in Dresden. Friendship with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl.

1905 – Co-founder of the artists’ group “Brücke”.

1906 – Encounter with Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde. Friendship with Gustav Schiefler and Dr. Rosa Schapire.

1906/1910 – Recurring stays in Dangast and at the Moritzburg Lakes.

1910 – Friendship with Otto Mueller.

1911 – Move to Berlin.

1912 – Participation in the Sonderbund exhibition, Cologne. Friendship with Lyonel Feininger and Dr. Walter Kaesbach.

1915/1918 – As a paramedic in Flanders: Roeselaere and Ostend. Encounter with Max Beckmann. Friendship with James Ensor. Marriage to Hilde Frieda Georgi (Sidi).

1919/20 – Founding member of the “Arbeitsrat für Kunst”, Berlin. Temporary member of the “Novembergruppe”, Berlin.

1919 – Exhibition at the Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover. Friendship with Paul Klee.

1937 – Exhibition ban. 729 works are confiscated by the National Socialists.

1944 – Destruction of the Berlin studio. Numerous works and all printing blocks are destroyed.

1949/1955 – Professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts, Karlsruhe.





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