ERICH HECKEL (1883-1970)
ERICH HECKEL (1883-1970)
ERICH HECKEL (1883-1970)
ERICH HECKEL (1883-1970)
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ERICH HECKEL (1883-1970)

Weisse Zirkuspferde

ERICH HECKEL (1883-1970)
Weisse Zirkuspferde
signed with initials and dated 'EH 21' (lower left)
oil on canvas
37 x 47 ¼ in. (94 x 120 cm.)
Painted in 1921
Roman Norbert Ketterer, Campione (acquired from the artist, by 1965).
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, July 1975.
B. Myers, Die Malerei des Expressionismus: eine Generation im Aufbruch, Cologne, 1957, p. 125.
P. Vogt, Erick Heckel, Recklinghausen, 1965, no. 1921/5 (illustrated).
R. Müller-Mehlis, "Erich Heckel" in Die Kunst und das schöne, 1968, no. 66.
M. Lucke and A. Hüneke, Erich Heckel, Dresden, 1992, pp. 130-131.
A. Hüneke, Erich Heckel: Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde, Wandbilder und Skulpturen, Munich, 2017, vol. II, p. 45, no. 1921-5 (illustrated in color).
Berlin, Kronprinzenpalais, Erich Heckel, March-May 1922.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, German Painting and Sculpture, March-April 1931, no. 26 (illustrated; titled Circus).
Kunstverein Freiburg and Mannheim, Städtische Kunsthalle, Erich Heckel, 1950, no. 9.
Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft and Berlin Hochschule für bildende Künste, Erich Heckel, July 1953, no. 35 (illustrated).
Munster, Landesmuseum, Erich Heckel: Zur vollendung des siebenten lebensjahrzehntes, July-September 1953, no. 46.
Konstanz, Kunstverein, Erich Heckel, October-November 1961, no. 6.
Essen, Museum Folkwang, Erich Heckel: Zur vollendung des achten lebensjahrzehntes, November 1963-January 1964, no. 32.
Campione, Galerie Roman Norbert Ketterer, Modern Kunst III, August 1966, no. 55.
Munich, Galerie Wolfgang Ketterer; Kunstverein Hannover and Lugano, Galerie Roman Norbert Ketterer, Erich Heckel, February-June 1966, no. 115.
Campione, Galerie Roman Norbert Ketterer, Moderne Kunst V, 1968, no. 38.
(possibly) New York, Marlborough Gallery, Inc., Masters of the 20th Century, 1971, no. 69.
Ottowa, National Gallery of Canada; The Winnipeg Art Gallery and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Erich Heckel: Peintures, aquarelles, dessins, travaux graphiques, 1971-1972, no. 15 (illustrated, pl. 24; titled Chevaux de cirque blancs).
Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Arte Aleman en Venezuela, June-August 1979.

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Lot Essay

From Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s sophisticated pastels to Federico Fellini’s visionary movie-sets, the world of the circus has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the most celebrated visual artists through the last century and a half. The richness of colors and lights, the intense mixture of comedy and pathos within the performances, the turmoil of the acrobats, clowns and animals, all conjured an enchanting show that beguiled and intrigued artists across different generations, movements and media. The leading protagonists of the Expressionist movement, in particular, were all deeply attracted to this world—for the young group of artists who forged the Die Brücke group, their fascination with the energy and atmosphere of the circus started during their years in Dresden, and continued to have an important impact on their art through the following decades. Erich Heckel, who had frequented the circus during his youth in the company of his close colleague and friend Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, returned to the subject following the end of the First World War, exploring the familiar repertoire of scenes and performances through a new lens.
Painted in 1921, Weisse Zirkuspferde (White Circus Horses) is one of three compositions that Heckel created that year on the theme of the circus, alongside Zirkusreiter (Hüneke, no. 1921-6; Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg) and Die Darnells (Hüneke, no. 1921-7; Private collection). While all three scenes appear to take place in the same tent, with green canvas walls, bright electric lights and a vibrantly decorated ceiling held up with yellow and blue posts that line the edge of the performance ring, they each present vividly different treatments of the space, as the artist’s focus was drawn in various directions by the performers. Here, the titular white horses canter around the edge of the ring, while two lithe acrobats dressed like jockeys perform daring stunts from their backs. In the center of the tent, the ringmaster tracks their progress, his whip in hand, while amelancholy clown turns his gaze to the crowd, monitoring their reactions as the figure on the left executes a dramatic leap from their mount. The performance space is condensed, making the ring seem almost impossibly small to accommodate the number of characters and the movement of the horses. This, combined with the slightly tilted perspective of the floor, accentuates the intensity of the experience, lending the impression that the horses will come right towards the viewer as they thunder around the ring. In this way, Heckel masterfully conveys a visceral sense of the experience of being in the crowd, witnessing the performance first hand from the steeply tiered seats.
In a discussion with Roman Norbert Ketterer in 1958, Heckel described how his own take on the circus differed from those of his former colleague, Kirchner: “For him it was about the movements of the dancer or the balancing act or the horse that ran around in the ring. He tried to reproduce everything in a concise form, while I wasn’t particularly interested in depicting this form of movement… In the circus, of course, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the horse was moving. But with me, it was pinned down in a certain way instead of showing that it was running away. I tried to embed it in the whole thing. The horse stays with you, I wanted to capture where it is right now” (quoted in A. Hüneke, op. cit., 2017, vol. II, p. 47). It is this tension between dynamism and stillness that makes works such as Weisse Zirkuspferde so visually striking, conjuring an effect not dissimilar to a photographic snapshot. As with the trapeze artists in Die Darnells, Heckel chooses to depict a point of high drama and movement within the performance, capturing the acrobatic figure in mid-air as he jumps free from his horse. By freezing the moment like so, the artist accentuates the sense of danger and suspense within the scene, as we are left to wonder whether or not they execute the move successfully, or if the stunt ends in disaster.

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