Erich Heckel – Co-founder and leader of the Brücke art group
Erich Heckel was born in Döbeln on 31 July 1883. The son of an engineer, he already met his later fellow painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff at school; he studied architecture at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden at the same time as Fritz Bleyl and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, but in their spare time, the four friends were particularly interested in art. In 1905, the expressionist art group Die Brücke was founded with Erich Heckel as its leader. Max Pechstein later joined the group and Otto Mueller and Emil Nolde for a time also. A lively exhibition schedule brought the young artists great attention, so that Heckel broke off his architecture studies prematurely to dedicate himself entirely to art, although he temporarily worked as a structural draughtsman for the architect Wilhelm Kreis. In 1911, he moved with the remaining Brücke artists to Berlin where he soon became acquainted with artists such as August Macke, Franz Marc and Lyonel Feininger and took part in the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne. Despite support from passive members such as Rosa Schapire and Gustav Schiefler, Die Brücke disbanded in 1913.
Successful years in Berlin, formative experiences in the war
Erich Heckel held his first solo exhibition that year at Fritz Gurlitt in Berlin, and also developed a lifelong friendship with the art historian Walter Keasbach. He served as a volunteer medic during the First World War and in 1916 married his girlfriend Milda Frieda Georgi, a dancer with the stage name Sidi Riha. His war experiences brought Heckel into contact not only with Max Beckmann and James Ensor, but also led to the creation of the lithograph Verwundeter Matrose and the large-format work Ostender Madonna, painted on two canvas panels. The Madonna was originally produced for a Christmas party of war invalids, and later hung in the Berlin Nationalgalerie in the Kronprinzpalais, but was the victim of a fire in 1945. After the First World War, Erich Heckel was a member of the acquisition committee of the Nationalgalerie and was able to support the interests of his painter friends. He purchased a farmhouse in Osterholz, set up a studio and decorated it with murals, which unfortunately later fell victim to renovation work.
Numerous works lost in the Second World War
Through the mediation of his war comrade Ernst Morwitz, Erich Heckel moved in the circles around Stefan George, and by signing the call for cultural workers, initiated by Joseph Geobbels, expressed his support for Adolf Hitler. However, this did not save him from an exhibition ban in 1937; his art was classed as degenerate and was confiscated and removed from museums. Many of Heckel’s works were destroyed in the chaos of the war – by the burning of pictures by the National Socialists and by the bombardment of the Allies. After the war, Erich Heckel taught at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Karlsruhe, was a member of the board of the Deutscher Künstlerbund and took part in documenta 1 in Kassel in 1955.
Erich Heckel died in Radolfzell on the Bodensee on 27 January 1970.
Erich Heckel - Works that have already been sold at Kunsthaus Lempertz: