Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Haunted Soldiers and Sailors of Erich Heckel

Erich Heckel (b. 31 July 1883, Döbeln, Germany–d. 27 January 1970, Radolfzell, West Germany), German painter, print maker, and sculptor, was one of the founding members of Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), an influential group of German Expressionist artists. He is best known for his paintings and bold woodcuts of nudes and landscapes. The Brücke artists helped to revive the woodcut tradition in Germany; they prized the medium’s ability to convey rough, spontaneous marks and bold, flat color. Heckel was the artist most prolific in woodcut, often creating posters and invitations for Die Brücke exhibitions. 

When the Great War broke out, Heckel was classified as unfit for active service but volunteered to serve as a medical corpsman and was assigned to an ambulance unit stationed in Ostend, Belgium. He managed to continue to produce work throughout the war, most famously his images of wounded and depressed soldiers and sailors, five of which are shown here. His wartime prints, like his work on other subjects all share a somber mood that reflects the economic and political uncertainty of the times. Heckel puts this sense of foreboding in visual terms through Expressionist manipulations of space and stark contrasts of black and white. Abrupt cropping and the narrow, vertical format heighten the feelings of oppression and tension. Even when placed in a sweeping landscape, figures are compressed into a tight space.  His work after the Armistice was notably less severe. In 1937 the Nazis denounced his work, labeling it “degenerate.” After World War II, Heckel taught at the Academy of Art (1949–56) in Karlsruhe, West Germany, until his retirement.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, MOMA Website, German Expressionism Website


  1. Makes one hate the Nazi's even more.

  2. German Expressionism: it is difficult to think of any other art movement or school or artist that better and more aggressively brings home to the viewer the stark impact of war on its victims. Not Nash's curious landscapes, not the Vorticists' or Cubists' calculated styles, not Grosz, nor Dix, nor ... No - I really give up.