Oil on canvas
Berndt Meyer, Berlin (acquired from the artist)
Private Collection, South-Africa (acquired from the above circa 1940)
Helmut Silberberg, South-Africa (acquired from the above by 1954 and sold: Christie's, London, June 27, 1983, lot 35)
Private Collection, Switzerland
Private Collection, Germany
Sale: Villa Grisebach, Berlin, June 4, 1999, lot 22
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
In 1909 and 1910, Erich Heckel as well as his close companion Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painted a series of significant studies of nudes in their Dresden studio which have become icons of the Expressionist movement. The rooms in the Brücke studio at 65 Berliner Strasse in Dresden were filled with items of furniture, woodcarvings, and painted lengths of cloth executed mainly by Kirchner. One of those painted cloths is most likely shown in the background of Akt (Dresden) and can also be seen in Kirchner's Akt mit geschminktem Gesicht (see fig.1) and Sitzender Akt mit erhobenen Armen (see fig. 2). The room’s exotic touch reveals the artists’ interest in the ‘primitive’ art of Africa and the South Seas that they were able to study extensively at the Museum of Ethnology in Dresden.
In 1911 Heckel moved to Berlin. The present work is therefore one of the last paintings the artist completed in Dresden. The Brücke movement was formed in Dresden in 1905 and the present work Akt (Dresden) is not only an example of the most important years of that influential movement, but also one of the last paintings completed in its founding city.
One of the major influences on Heckel’s work from 1908 onwards was that of the Fauves (fig. 2 and fig. 3). Pechstein had spent time in Paris with the Fauves in 1907-08 and expressed his respect for the movement to his Brücke colleagues in Germany. Additionally, works by Derain, Van Dongen, Friesz, Marquet and Vlaminck were exhibited in Dresden at the Kunstsalon Richter in September 1908 at the same time as works by members of the Brücke. Of crucial importance too was an exhibition of works by Henri Matisse shown at Paul Cassirer’s gallery in Berlin in January 1909. Clearly, Heckel knew of the French master’s work and the overall energy and vibrancy of Akt (Dresden) reflects undoubtedly the potency of this influence.
1908-09 were crucial years in Heckel’s artistic development when his technical and inspirational areas of focus were constantly developing. The artist moved away from the heavy impasto technique that he was using in 1907 while strongly influenced by the work of Van Gogh and Neo-Impressionism. Instead, he developed a clearer style of painting where the brushstrokes are applied in rapid, decisive gestures and overall the palette is much lighter than the one used earlier. Anton Henze noted that around the time the present work was executed, Heckel began diluting his paints with varnish, attempting to invent a thin distemper that would suit his rapid and impulsive brushwork (A. Henze, Erich Heckel, Leben und Werk, Stuttgart & Zurich, 1983, pp. 26-27).
‘The Brücke artists and the Fauves were at one in their quest for ‘expression’ as the prime aim of their painting, but by ‘expression’ they meant different things. For the Germans expression signified passion, the ecstatic assimilation and appropriation of the world, whereas Matisse and his friends strove for an art of balance, purity and repose, for l’expression intime. For the artists of the Brücke art had to fuse with the objects they depicted – feeling and the object of feeling had to become one’ (Wieland Schmied, ‘Points of Departure and Transformations in German Art 1905-1985’, in German Art in the 20th Century – Painting and Sculpture 1905-1985 (exhibition catalogue), London, 1985, p. 23).
Fig.1, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Sitzender Akt mit erhobenen Armen, 1910, oil on canvas, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
Fig. 2, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Akt mit geschminktem Gesicht, 1910, oil, location unknown
Fig. 3, Kees van Dongen, Femme au grand chapeau, 1906, oil on canvas, sold: Sotheby’s, London, June 20, 2005
Fig. 4, Henri Matisse, Madame Matisse, La Raie verte, 1905, oil on canvas, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
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