Erich Heckel (1883-1970)

Erich Heckel was born in Döbeln, near Chemnitz, in 1883. During his time at grammar school he made friends with Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Along with other pupils they gathered at the debating society "Vulkan", where they discussed anti-bourgeois literature and art theory. Nietzsche and Dostojewski were among their favourite authors and the intellectual appreciation of literature and its later transfer into the vocabulary of fine arts had a lasting impact on Heckel. In 1904 he began to study architecture at the polytechnical University in Dresden. Here he met Ernst Ludwig Kirchner; their discovery of their common goals culminated in the foundation of the artists' association "Brücke" with Schmidt-Rottluff and Bleyl in 1905. Heckel, who was the most pragmatic character of the group, took over the management and intensively engaged himself in the organisational duties. He discontinued his studies and worked in the architectural office of Wilhelm Kreis. Like the other "Brücke" painters he searched for nature as untouched as possible by civilization and spent the summers of 1907 and 1908 at the North Sea coast in Dangast and of 1909 and 1910 at the Moritzburger Lakes with Kirchner and Pechstein.

In 1911 all members of the "Brücke" moved to Berlin. Heckel reacted to his experience of the metropole in a melancholic way: his colours became more subdued and he added the motive of the melancholic, brooding, thoughtful or ill sufferer in bed. He also increasingly took up illustration of literary works. In 1912 his work reached a peak when he took part in the "Sonderbundausstellung" in Cologne, where he also decorated a chapel with Kirchner. At this time he also met numerous other artists like Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Christian Rolfs, Lyonel Feininger and August Macke. During World War I Heckel served as a medical orderly and was responsible for organizing the return home of wounded soldiers to be brought home. A number of drawings and sketches from this time mirror his experiences and capture impressions of the scenery. It was also possible for him to meet James Ensor who lived in Ostende. In June 1916 Heckel married Hilda Frieda Georgi.

During the 1920s Heckel was politically active as a member of the "Arbeitsrat für Kunst" (artists' advisory board) and the "Novembergruppe" (November group). During the summer months he traveled throughout Europe. He was mostly fascinated by mountains, such as the Alps around the Bodensee, and in the Black Forest. The severity and monumentality of the mountains therefore entered his landscapes for the first time. In 1922/23 he painted murals for the Anger-Museum in Erfurt.

The rise of the Third Reich resulted in the defamation of Heckel as a "degenerated" artist and during World War II a substantial part of his work was destroyed. In 1944 he moved to Hemmenhofen on the Bodensee. After the war Heckel taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe. Until his death in 1970 he remained one of Germany’s most important artist as evidenced by his many exhibitions and awards.




Erich Heckel
Junger Mann und Mädchen, 1909