Germany 1883 – 1970

Weisse Pferde [White horses] 1912 Materials & Technique: prints, relief colour woodcut Edition: edition approximately 80; plus a few proofs outside of the edition
Publisher: Neumann, J.B
Place Published: Berlin
Date Published: 1912

Edition Notes: Publisher: Printer: probably the artist, Berlin. J. B. Neumann, Berlin.
Dimensions: comp (irreg) 30.0 h x 31.0 w cm sheet 68.0 h x 53.3 w cm
Acknowledgement: The Poynton Bequest 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.552
Subject: Art style: Expressionism
Image rights: © Erich Heckel/Bild-Kunst. Licensed by Viscopy
  • Erich Heckel, EL Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff were the founding members of the German Expressionist group Die Brücke (The Bridge). From 1905, Die Brücke were determined to break new ground in German art by rejecting academic conventions and adopting the striking imagery and techniques that they observed in the work of African and Pacific cultures. The group radically revitalised the Germanic printmaking tradition and their works stand today as some of the most important print works ever produced.

    Heckel created White horses (Weisse Pferde) in 1912, a year after Die Brücke moved from Dresden to Berlin. The relocation to a large city caused a dramatic change in Heckel’s work as the artist reacted to the metropolis by producing works that were introspective and melancholy. In contrast, White horses depicts a combination of animals and figures within an Arcadian landscape, giving the scene a lyrical tone that is markedly divergent from the artist’s other figurative works.

    The woodcut shows two men leading two white horses along a path. As they near a junction, a third figure walks towards them. Heckel’s treatment of the landscape is masterly: three trees bend towards the right side of the image, buffeted by a breeze that is evoked by a rough cutting of the wood. The irregular slope of the top edge of the woodblock is also harnessed by Heckel as a visual device to underscore this sense of energy and to heighten the anticipation; a meeting of the three figures is imminent.

    Perhaps the art historical events of 1912 are key to Heckel’s uncharacteristic choice of subject. It was during this year that Heckel met the leading artists of the Munich-based artists group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky. Marc, in particular, viewed the horse as a symbol of energy and strength and had adopted this motif as the major theme in his work. The unusual appearance of the horse in Heckel’s White horses, in combination with the meeting of three figures, can be interpreted as a momentary fusion of the ideas of two revolutionary artist groups: Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brücke.

    Jaklyn Babington
    Assistant Curator, International Prints and Drawings
    in artonview, issue 60, summer 2009

    in artonview, issue 60, summer 2009