As a co-founder of the group of artists known as Die Brücke, Erich Heckel (1883-1970) was a leading figure in German expressionism. Exploring Flanders during World War I, he became fascinated with its landscapes, sea views and people. With this monographic exhibition, the MSK illuminates a less well-known yet coherent and deeply familiar period in Heckel’s artistic career. Within his historic context, it also sheds light on the beginnings and the evolution of his work in the years from 1905 to 1918.
As a co-founder of the group of artists known as Die Brücke, Erich Heckel (1883-1970) was one of the leading figures in German expressionism. Inspired by Van Gogh, Gaugin and Munch, from 1905 onwards Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff developed a common visual language consisting of bright colours and shapes that were angular rather than stylised, reflecting a liberated way of living and enormous vitality. Their revolutionary art set the tone for the development of German painting not only at the dawn of the 20th century, but far beyond.
Art in wartime
Heckel became acquainted with Flanders during World War I, when he travelled to Ghent, Roeselare and Oostende as a Red Cross nurse. Other painters and writers were also on board the hospital train, and the field hospital that was established in the station at Oostende developed into a fully-fledged artists’ colony. It was here that Heckel met James Ensor and developed a deep friendship with another nurse, the young poet Ernst Morwitz, whose literary world had a deep impact on Heckel’s visual art.
Fascinated by Flanders
When they weren’t working, Heckel and the others found plenty of time to devote to art. In his illustrations Heckel recorded the places he visited and the people he saw there in countless drawings. In his paintings his focus was mainly on landscapes and the sea, with their specific types of cloud formations. He portrayed the particular landscapes of Flanders in a style that was romantic and expressive, spiritual and tangible, nostalgic and, in such a difficult era, full of hope.
The MSK has a small but lovely collection of German expressionist art, among which a view of Bruges painted by Heckel in 1917. This monographic exhibition illustrates a less well-known yet coherent and deeply familiar period in the career of this prominent artist. At the same time, and within his historic context, it sheds light on the beginnings and the evolution of his work.