European Figurative Prints from Gauguin to Paladino
A National Gallery of Australia travelling exhibition
As young men in their early twenties, Erich Heckel, E.L. Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff were the founding members of the group of initially Dresden-based artists called Die Brücke [The Bridge]. The group formed in 1905 and disbanded in 1913. Other members included Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde.
While these artists saw themselves as ‘a new generation’ several earlier artists were clearly influential in their work such as Munch and Gauguin as well as some of the tribal arts of Africa and Polynesia.
Through their revival of the woodcut as an image-making medium they also paid homage to an earlier period of German Gothic art and the works of artists such as Dürer, Cranach and Grünewald.
Artists of Die Brücke often produced works using found pieces of unfinished timber or re-cycled lithographic stones – Heckel’s Hockende 1914 or Pechstein’s Im Regen 1909 are examples of these. By using these 'recycled' materials the artists rejected the technical, mechanised perfection that dominated the printing styles of the day in favour of something that conveyed the emotional rawness, untamedness, and energy.
Erich Heckel 'Marzella' 1910 woodcut Collection of the National Gallery of Australia © Erich Heckel. Licensed by Bild-Kunst & VISCOPY, Australia click to enlarge
Traditionally, the Die Brücke artists produced their own catalogues. Each artist would take a painting by another in the show and produce a woodcut, or sometimes several, to illustrate the catalogue.
Two of the Die Brücke artists’ models were the young girls, Fränzi and Marzella, perhaps sisters, who frequently accompanied the group on their artistic excursions into the local countryside.
The illustration shows the painting Marcella 1909-10 by E.L. Kirchner, now housed in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Although the reversed black and white woodcut on display here has always been catalogued as Fränzi, it is clearly based on the Marcella painting.
This painting, as the catalogue page on display shows, was listed as item number 25 of the 1910 exhibition. The inscription reads ‘Picture by E.L. Kirchner; Cut by E Heckel’.
This delicate, poignant, slightly self-conscious portrait of one of Die Brücke’s favourite models is a small masterpiece in its own right; a masterpiece due entirely to the simple union of rough wood, cheap paper, black ink and the genius of its maker.
Erich Heckel 'Mannerbildnis [Portrait of a man]' 1919 woodcut Collection of the National Gallery of Australia Purchased 1991 with the assistance of Tony Berg © Erich Heckel. Licensed by Bild-Kunst & VISCOPY, Australia click to enlarge
Erich Heckel’s self portrait Männerbildnis [Portrait of a man] 1919 is one of the iconic images of the Expressionist era.
Produced just after the end of World War I, on which it seems to offer a tragic introspective commentary, this is an astonishingly powerful work – elemental in its simplicity, unflinching in its self-observation and unsurpassed in the rough beauty of its execution.
This example is a very rare trial proof of this work – that is, the image that Heckel worked on before the final edition was produced.
In this example the colour has been painted over the printed block by hand – Heckel is still trying out what works – while in the final edition the block overprints the coloured base.