Franz Heckendorf

Heckendorf, Landscape on Tenerife

The Power of Colors and Nature

Heckendorf on Tenerife

as little known Destination of his Early Study Tours

Heckendorf, Franz (Berlin 1888 – Munich 1962). Landscape on Tenerife. View along a rivulet spanned in the middle distance by an arched bridge into a ravine in the skyward striving, barren, rugged red brown mountains with vista at distant blue mountains below equally blue skies. The upwards sloping banks grown on both sides with palms. Watercolor over traces of black chalk. Inscribed in the latter below left: F. Heckendorf (19)25. and on the back in pencil in kurrent: Landsch. auf Tenerife. 39.9-15¾ × 19⅝ in (40.1 × 49.8 cm).


Thieme-Becker XVI (1923), 211 f.; Vollmer II (1955), 400; AKL LXX (2011), 513 f.

Kestner-Museum Hanover, Kataloge der Sonderausstellungen XVII, 1918; Joachim Kirchner, Franz Heckendorf, 1919, & Neue Bilder von Franz Heckendorf in Biermann (ed.), Jahrbuch der jungen Kunst 1924, 190 ff.; Cicerone, vols. 1912-1928, here especially XVI (1924), 802 f.; Max Osborn, Franz Heckendorf, in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration: Monatshefte für moderne Malerei etc., January 1924, pp. 177 ff.; Feuer II, 1 (1920/21), 195-202; Franz Heckendorf, catalog of the special exhibition Gallery Hagemeier, Frankfort/Main, 1985; Symphonie in Farbe, exhibition catalog of Kunstfreunde Bergstraße, 1991; Rainer Zimmermann, Expressiver Realismus / Malerei der verschollenen Generation, 1994, 384.

Heckendorf, Landscape on Tenerife

Unmentioned by literature, albeit documented here by the large-sized painting Spanish Landscape (with town) of the same year – only Horst Ludwig writes in the catalog Hagemeier more generally of the “grand tours through Europe” –

Heckendorf’s tour to Spain and the Canary Islands

in the interior of which he encountered a landscape not unlike Dalmatia and the Balkans, of which still today the cruise and package tourist has no idea, as conversely the hiker immerging into the ravines with their partly perennial rivulets must think of today’s large concrete tourist developments as belonging to another, unreal world.

The barren mountains here meeting along the banks of the rivulet leading into the depth the “play of colors of the luscious southern flora with palms, cypresses, and high agave forbs” already cited by Kirchner, at the same time reminding “that on his tour(s) Heckendorf has only painted in watercolors and sketched, and that the execution in oil only followed in the studio from memory”. Thus his watercolors are of ultimate local originality.

Albeit in its pictorial dramatics not comparable, the basics of the composition are to be found, too, in the watercolor Trees created three years later as described by Horst Ludwig:

“ Although (sic!) watercolors, Heckendorf’s style yet becomes apparent. In the work ‘Trees’ he shows a path leading into the depth of the picture, with trees standing to the left and right. Here for the painter it is neither about the detail nor the naturalistic likeness: rather the natural scene is used as a chance to create an autonomous pictorial world which emphasizes the characteristics of the model while others are neglected. Important to him are the dark trunks which create deep spatiality and greatly rhythmize the plane. Contrasting with these compact, solid forms the soil formations and the foliage which are structured flat … Not the material character of the objects, the structure of the trees are to be rendered, but the confrontation of blue-green planes with dark brown straight lines. Nonetheless by this an effect of nature is conveyed which structurally corresponds with the seen part of the terrain, without imitating it slavishly ”

(Horst Ludwig, Aspekte zu Leben und Werk von Franz Heckendorf, in catalog Hagemeier, pp. 4 f.).

Where in the present case the depth effect is especially emphasized by the palm leaning from front right into the center of the picture. But also in aforementioned Spanish Landscape from 1925 the view goes through the gorge parting the town into the depth towards the mountains rising in the background.

With the complete dispense with the frequently – but likewise not in the Spanish Landscape – encountered narrative, yet faceless figuration besides sheer nature, in which only the bridge suggests the presence on man.

Marvelously vividly colored work

with the proverbial “bold, shining local colors” on grained sturdy watercolor paper (verso browned) from the for Heckendorf so determining group of the mountainous southern landscape, based on the “study stay(s) in … Italy, Dalmatia and Asia Minor … Applies himself beside oil painting also to pastel and watercolor … The most mature Heckendorf has created so far (1923) are his landscapes“ (Vollmer in Thieme-Becker and Vollmer resp.).

And Max Osborn especially on the preceding Dalmatia tour 1923 with painter friends Eugen Spiro and Ludwig Batò:

“ They wanted ‘to take into hand’ that colorful and shining world where Italy and the Balkans, antiquity and Orient meet … Heckendorf yet, the youngest, grown up in the Berlin expressionist air, takes the unfamiliar sensation of the foreign nature to rebuild the country by himself so to speak from piling up color planes … The whole nature is great form here indeed. Mighty, Olympic, the royal lines of the mountains rise to the skies, then slope back to earth again with great gesture – these rock massifs whose majestic contours are not broken by the scrubby crowns of deciduous and fir woods … Like a merry young god, Heckendorf’s unspent, bawdy, fresh vitality played with these welcome motifs, and the brightness of southern days, the purity of the air on the coast and in the mountains, the fantastic variety of colors in clouded days all at once impregnated his palette … ”

(Max Osborn, op. cit., p. 180).

“ (Heckendorf) found a new style which by strict dispense with all purely imitative intentions aimed ‘to spiritualize everything optically perceptible and translate it into the sphere of the visionarily seen’; that stood for the

accomplishment of the program of modern expressionism ,

of which H. is one of the most persuasive evangelists … ”

(Vollmer 1923). And continuing in 1953:

“ Pupil of the instruction class of the Berlin Museum of Applied Arts and the Academy, but essentially autodidact (just as the contemporaries Heckel & E. L. Kirchner and like these starting from impressionism). One of the most talented exponents of the young generation of German artists … Coping with all techniques and an exceedingly easily producing talent … besides oil painting H. applies himself to pastel, watercolor, and lithography … ”

(Vollmer). With characteristic shining out of itself as in turn reflection of, exactly, the “visionarily seen”. So then also most strikingly put into a nutshell – adopting Kirchner almost verbatim – by Rainer Zimmermann in the catalog of Kunstfreunde Bergstraße:

“ The process of spiritualization, which the artist creates by the color but also by rhythm and line, is to be perceived doubtlessly most easily in his landscapes.

By the selection of the colors the whole passionate verve

of his exuberant temperament finds its highest satisfaction .

Visionary light effects complete the charm.

His colors glow , jerk , and flash

or are full of dark melancholia ”

(op. cit., p. 11; spacing & centering not in the original).

Heckendorf, F. Heckendorf (19)25

With respect to the watercolor technique here otherwise applies to Heckendorf no less than to Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976):

“ In the art of our century the watercolor has its own, still unwritten history which it owes above all to German artists; they helped it to a power unknown before by which it – also by its dimensions – manifests itself as

an autonomous species beside the painting .

To those who liberated the watercolor from its serving role of the coloring of drawings, to which it was cut down again and again in spite of Dürer’s, Turner’s, and Cézanne’s creations, Schmidt-Rottluff belongs to ”

(Gunther Thiem, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart 1969, p. 13). Just as, it shall be repeated the coeval Heckendorf.

In dark years ostracized like his ilk, after the war the way back was paved by professorship at the Vienna Academy and teaching in Salzburg. From 1950 then settled down in Munich. And leaving behind an œuvre in which, even though not yet again ex cathedra, the connoisseur is promised what erstwhile already had been certainty:

“ The leading role (Heckendorf) took already at the beginning of his career among the colleagues of the same age remained with him, and it supposedly means a general acknowledgement of his skill when this year he was represented

along with the most eminent names of the world of German painters

with several works on the international art exhibition in Rome ”

(Joachim Kirchner in Jahrbuch der jungen Kunst 1924, p. 190). Here then, just one year later, from almost unknown study tour

from the interior of Tenerife
as till today reserved for individualists & connoisseurs .

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