A young girl lies naked on a blue blanket against a neutral black background. Her lean, childish body is turned towards the viewer, her angular face with high cheekbones, wide lips and big, dark eyes looks straight ahead. With the greatest economy of means, Erich Heckel created this print from a single woodblock by carving the shape of the body roughly out of the block, retaining only a few sparse lines to indicate her bodily and facial features. Then, with a jigsaw, he cut out three separate areas around body, which - taken out, inked separately and put back in - could be printed in a different colour and would constitute the blanket. Fränzi liegend ('Fränzi reclining') is arguably the most famous woodcut of the period, a powerfully concentrated image, pared down to a basic human figure and simple blocks of colour - the quintessential expressionist print.
The image shows one of the favourite models of the Brücke artists, at a time when the artists' group was at its most cohesive and tightly-knit. During the summers of 1909 to 1911, they took Fränzi and other models and girlfriends along to the Moritzburg Lakes outside Dresden, where they bathed and relaxed, painted and drew - living out their dream of a life at one with nature, uninhibited and free. Heckel in particular was fascinated by the girl and produced numerous prints, drawings and paintings of her, both in the studio and at the lakes.
Rumours and assumptions have long surrounded the identity and background of the child, partially supported by Max Pechstein, who in his memoirs remembered her as the orphaned daughter of an acrobat. He also mentioned her sister, usually identified with another, slightly older model called Marzella. These sparse details however proved untrue when in 1995 Gerd Presler found Fränzi's family name mentioned in one of Kirchner's notebooks, who had paid her a visit in Dresden in 1925 or 26. Church records revealed her identity: Lina Franziska Fehrmann was born on 11 October 1900 as the twelfth child of a haberdasher and a machinist. She did not have a sister called Marzella and both her parents where alive when, at the age of just nine, she first joined Heckel, Kirchner and Pechstein at the Moritzburg Lakes and became their most striking - and unlikely - muse.
Erich Heckel's inventory of works records a total of 28 impressions of Fränzi liegend, including three printed in black only, twenty in black and red, and five in black and blue. It seems that only a very small number of these were printed immediately upon completion of the block in 1910. The earliest impressions of Fränzi liegend all have a strong 'workshop character' and demonstrate that Heckel was more interested in the printing process than in the finished print. The four impressions that are known with some certainty to have been printed in 1910 are all printed in black and red. They are irregularly, almost carelessly inked and clearly show the application of the inks by hand or brush; the black block prints with much structure within the torso and legs, and the paper shows considerable handling marks, such as fingerprints and accidental brushstrokes in the margins. All other known impressions, including the five impressions in blue, were probably printed in the early 1950s when Heckel's work, after being discredited during the Nazi-era and being partly lost and destroyed during the war, began to be rediscovered and appreciated. It must have been then that the artist decided to print a small edition of Fränzi liegend, one of his graphic masterpieces, for the main print rooms, private collectors and a few select art dealers in Germany.
These later impressions, most of which are now in public collections, differ noticeably from the early proofs. The inking, especially in the red or blue, is much more homogeneous and opaque, and many of the sculptural marks on the torso, especially at her groin, abdomen and breasts, have disappeared. Dube thought these differences indicated the block had been re-cut and designated it as a second state. It seems more likely however, that the block in fact remained unchanged and that the differences in the later impressions are the result of a more careful and controlled inking and printing process.