Archives, The Artist Birthday Series

Erich Heckel

In December 1911, Erich Heckel moved from Dresden to Berlin, and Die Brücke was dissolved in 1913. He was classified as unfit for active service during the First World War, but volunteered to serve in an ambulance unit stationed in Belgium. Despite these commitments, he managed to continue to produce work throughout the war.

"Self Portrait," 1919
“Self Portrait,” 1919

By 1937, Heckel’s work had come under the severe scrutiny. Germany’s place as one of the world leaders of free-thought and expression had been usurped by the rise of fascism in that county. From 1920, the movement later to be known as the The Nazi Party, had emerged from the German nationalist, racist and populist paramilitary culture. Under the guise of patriotism and using fear as a weapon (focused on racism, or fear “of people different from you”),  this group gained immense power through the democratic process. Proving to be quite effective in certain countries today, this kind of mental manipulation of a population then also served as a powerful tool. The Nazi Party was able to gain the majority in the Reichstag (Germany’s equivalent of England’s Parliment, or U.S. Congress), and then proceed to reforge the police department into a military force, develop powerful propaganda, censor journalism, have political opponents arrested on trumped up charges, and so on. Under the banner of “National Exceptionalism,” the end result of this party’s assumption of power, and its leader’s guidance, is one that though nearly everyone on the planet is aware of, it appears in 2016 that not all have learned from.

1937's "Degenerate Art" exhibition in Munich
1937’s “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich

The Nazi party asserted its power over the art world and by 1937, had declared Heckel’s work degenerate and forbade him to show his work in public, and more than 700 items of his art were confiscated from German museums. “Degenerate art” (German: Entartete Kunst) was a term used to describe virtually all modern art. Such art was banned on the grounds that it was un-German, Jewish, or Communist in nature, and those identified as degenerate artists were subjected to sanctions, interrogation, and at times, even arrest. The artists deemed “degenerate,” were being dismissed from teaching positions, forbidden to exhibit, sell, or at times even create their art. By 1944 all of Heckel’s woodcut blocks and print plates had been destroyed, as had the works of countless other artists, including Die Brücke co-founder Ernst Ludwig Kirschner, who committed suicide in 1938.

One of Heckel's works being inspected at the "Degenerate Art" exhibition
One of Heckel’s works being inspected at the “Degenerate Art” exhibition

After World War II Heckel lived at Gaienhofen near Lake Constance, teaching at the Karlsruhe Academy until 1955.

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