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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Erich Heckel

White House in Dangast, 1908, Erich Heckel--too "over the top" for my tastes.
Although I'm probably more tolerant of avant-garde art than most people, it's not unexpected, I suppose, for a writer such as myself, familiar with a very broad range of creative expression down through the centuries, to come upon work of which I'm not quite fond. Sometimes, my reaction goes well beyond that. Likewise, I have several artists whose work I dislike with varying degrees of intensity. But I have very few broad categories or styles which fall into that realm. One that does, however, is German Expressionism. When you talk about this period and style, you're necessarily referring primarily to two movements, Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brucke. Although I fully understand their seminal importance in the development of Abstract Expressionism in America, neither German movement has ever "moved" me. I find their brushwork and color usage quite "over the top" and their content is, at best, boring--heavily laden with unflattering, barely recognizable portraits, distressing landscapes, and desperately distorted figure studies. Not to exemplify Adolph Hitler as a man or as an art critic, but he labeled this entire era of German art (the first two or three decades of the 20th-century) as "degenerate." I don't know that I would go that far, but I do see where he was coming from.
Heckel at the Easel, ca. 1907,
Ernest Ludwig Kirchner. Compare
it to Heckel's painting at right.
Man at a Young Age, ca. 1907,
Erich Heckel.  It's not officially a self-
portrait, but can there be any doubt?.
Erich Heckel was one of the four founders of Die Brucke (the bridge) around 1907, along with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (left), Karl Schmidt-Rotluff, and Fritz Bleyl. They and Heckel were all architectural students at the Dresden Polytechnic Institute, and far more interested in painting than drafting. Their idol was the Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch. Unlike Kandinsky's Munich-based Der Blaue Reiter (the blue rider), which lasted little more than a year, Die Brucke was a smaller group, but much better organized. As a result, it had a far greater impact on German Expressionism and that which was to follow after both world wars. Erich Heckel was, in effect, the "secretary" for the group, and likely the primary factor in both its longevity and influence. He promoted their work and organized their shows. And though their first, in a lamp factory showroom, was something of a 'bust," later shows in conjunction with the Erich Richter Gallery in Dresden, were much more popular, if no less controversial (below).
Franzi Reclining, 1910, Erich Heckel, a woodcut used as a poster to promote a
Die Brucke show, but confiscated by Dresden police.
Erich Heckel, Self-portrait, 1919
Heckel was born in 1883, in Döbeln, Saxony, the son of a railway engineer. At the time, young men with an artistic bent were frequently channeled into architectural training as opposed to the turbulent life of a painter. Heckel, Kirchner, and the others preferred turbulence to turrets. Though they may have briefly held "day jobs" as draftsmen, their real life was in painting. And if life as a painter wasn't desperate enough, these were desperate times on the streets of pre-WW I Germany as well. Had it not been for that war and the next one, Abstract Expressionism might well have come to Germany thirty years before it came to the streets of New York. Though Kandinsky was toying with pure, non-representational abstraction around that time (and merely toying with it), few of his German colleagues were willing to go that for--to jettison all recognizable content in favor of purely elemental design. 
Lying Girl, 1913, Erich Heckel. Matisse would have loved this one.
Erich Heckel was one of Hitler's favorite degenerates. His work was banned from public display in 1937, confiscated from the walls of museums a few years later, and by 1944 most of his woodblocks and etching plates had been destroyed. To add insult to injury, Heckel's studio was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during the war. Except for a few paintings, which had been in his private belongings, or in the hands of foreign collectors, the vast majority of his surviving work was done after Hitler had been declared "degenerate" in 1945, and during Heckel's retirement in Gaienhofen, Germany, where he taught and painted until his death in 1970.

In 1994, the Germans turned Heckel's Landscape Near Dresden, dating from 1910, into a postage stamp. From "degenerate" to Bundespost in just sixty long years.


1 comment:

  1. Hombre estamos hablando de arte nuevo. Y los expresionistas si algo tienen es su novedosa forma de aplicar el color y el dibujo. Eso no obsta para que gusten o no gusten. Gracias por la página y un saludo.