Döbeln/Saxony 1883 - 1970 Radolfzell
Tempera on canvas. 41.3 x 52 cm. Framed. Indistinctly signed and dated 'Erich Heckel 17' in pencil lower right and additionally signed in black pen to the reverse 'E Heckel' (barely legible). - With few inconspicuous retouches.
With an expertise by Hans Geissler, Gaienhofen/Hemmenhofen dated 22 December 2001. The work is to be included in the planned revised catalogue raisonné.
Erich Heckel spent the final years of the First World War in Flanders, where he was deployed as a military paramedic in Ghent and Ostend. It was thanks to his friend Walter Kaesbach that the artist did not have to go to the front. The art historian and influential patron of Expressionist art had volunteered for the medical corps, and as section commander he gathered a whole series of artists in his unit. Thanks to Kaesbach's duty schedules, Heckel regularly found time to paint alongside his tasks as a paramedic. He was thus able to create over 70 paintings between 1915 and 1918, including numerous seascapes.
It is readily apparent that Heckel's manner of coming to terms with the theme of war in his works is entirely different than that of Max Beckmann or Otto Dix, for example. The worlds of his paintings are characterised not by the brutality and mercilessness of war, but instead by indirect intimations of suffering and inner experience: “In fact Heckel was scarcely politicised, not to mention radicalised, through his wartime experiences, in contrast to Dix or Grosz. Extreme emotions were foreign to Heckel's personality. While Dix initially marched off to war with considerable enthusiasm, Heckel - even as a volunteer - was already far from any 'hurrah patriotism' at the time of his departure.” (Aya Soika, Erich Heckel im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: exhib. cat. Erich Heckel: Aufbruch und Tradition; Eine Retrospektive, Schleswig & Berlin 2010/11, p. 78).
Although Heckel experienced the war at a certain distance in his role as a paramedic in Flanders, it was nonetheless omnipresent. In a letter sent from Ostend in October of 1915 he states: “In spite of the large battles on the Western front, little is to be seen of it so far here; everything has been prepared. After all, things can also get going any day here.” (letter to Gustav Schiefler from 1 October 1915. Cited in: Aya Soika, Erich Heckel im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: exhib. cat. Erich Heckel: Aufbruch und Tradition, op. cit., p. 79).
The present seascape is able to sensitively reflect the tense ambivalence of this situation. The dark-blue sea lies almost motionless. There are no breakers; instead, the sea calmly meets the light-coloured shore between the tideways. In the sky a massive group of clouds announces its presence, so to speak, and reminds us of this deceptive summer idyll's fragility.