Heinrich Campendonk was born on 3 November in Krefeld, the son of Heinrich Gottfried Campendonk and his wife Catharina. His father ran a small agency and commission business in difficult financial circumstances. In 1904, the fifteen-year old Campendonk left the FünfzehnjÃ¤hrige den Besuch der Oberrealschule and enrolled at Krefeld's Fachschule für Textilkunde. A year later he gave up a course which, in view of the local textiles industry, would undoubtedly have offered him ample opportunities to earn a living, and opted instead for a place at the Handwerker- und Kunstgewerbeschule. Of the teachers whose classes he attended, he particularly admired by the Dutchman Jan Thorn Prikker, an artist trained in the Jugendstil, who impressed upon him the need to study nature closely as the basis for a good grounding in art. Having gone against his father's will, however, Campendonk was only able to continue with his studies until the summer of 1908. During that time, he became friendly with two of his fellow pupils, Walter Giskes and Will Wieger, but above all with Helmuth Macke, cousin of the Bonn painter August Macke. In 1908 and 1909, he temporarily ran a joint studio with them near Krefeld. It was also in this period that he became acquainted with Heinrich Nauen-nine years his senior-and met August Macke through Helmuth. Financial difficulties led him to become involved in the Osnabrück cathedral murals in 1910. In the meantime, August Macke moved to Tegernsee and Helmuth also spent a period there. Contacts arose with the Neue Künstlervereinigung München and the group that broke away from it to become known as Der Blaue Reiter formed by Marc and Kandinsky. In 1911, at Marc's invitation, Campendonk moved to Sindelsdorf in Upper Bavaria. He lived with Helmuth Macke and it was through Marc's and Kandinsky's circle of associates that he also came into contact with Jean Bloé Niestlé, Alexej von Jawlensky, Gabriele Münter and Paul Klee. He took part in the first exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter at the Galerie ThannhÃ¤user in Munich and was represented in the almanac of 1912 bearing the group's name. In the spring of 1912 he married his long-standing girlfriend Adda Deichmann. Although the entry Campendonk sent to the Cologne Sonderbund exhibition that year was rejected, he did take part in the Ausstellung Rheinischer Expressionisten in Bonn in 1913-thanks to August Macke's intervention-and at the Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon at Herwarth Walden's avant-garde gallery Der Sturm in Berlin. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 was to bring about the loss of his friend August Macke in September, whose death was followed two years later by that of Franz Marc. From 1915 onwards, Campendonk was repeatedly called up for national service but was only conscripted for short periods and, for health reasons, was never sent to the front.
After he was released from military service in 1916, the artist moved to Seeshaupt on Lake Starnberg. His membership of Berlin's revolutionary Novembergruppe was a non-political manoeuvre which should be interpreted in the context of the joint decision by all Der Sturm artists to become associated with it. After the war ended, Heinrich Campendonk increasingly detached himself from the man who, until then, had been his sole agent, Herwarth Walden. In 1921, a publicly-aired dispute ensured that the break was final. The artist returned to his hometown of Krefeld, where he remained resident from 1922 to 1932. From 1923 to 1924, he worked as a set-designer for the local theatre. In the same period, he took a one-year teaching post at the Kunstgewerbeschule of Essen, where he taught "Surface Art". Then, in 1926, he was appointed to the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie as Thorn Prikker's successor. In the subsequent period he was commissioned on numerous occasions to provide glass windows for both secular and religious purposes. In 1932, his marriage to Adda broke up and was followed by a second marriage to the Flemish artist Edith van Leckwyck in 1935.
Campendonk responded to his defamation by the Nazis by emigrating. He spent 1933 on the Lofoten islands, where he was granted sabbatical leave, only to be dismissed from his teaching duties one year later. After considerable dispute in the press, in 1935 he was given a chair at the Rijksacademie van beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940 he came under increasing threat, and only escaped a Gestapo raid by hiding for hours with his wife inside a piece of furniture. These experiences were to have a lasting effect on Campendonk.
When the war ended, he resumed his teaching activities in Amsterdam. His increasing reputation in Germany too brought him numerous orders for glass windows in secular public buildings and churches alike. Although he never totally dominated the Dutch language, all attempts to bring him home failed. A year after being made a knight of the "De Neederlandse Leeuw" order, Campendonk died on 9 May 1957 in Amsterdam.