Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
The Old Post House in Dangast-the "White House" shown in Heckel's painting-still stands, not far from the shore line and mud flats of the so-called Wattenmeer, the curving bay which describes a semi-circle between the town of Varel and the port of Wilhelmshaven. The immediate surroundings, however, are now so changed that it is difficult to visualise the locality as it must have appeared in the early years of this century. In particular, the main asphalt road now runs not alongside the building, but past the further gable end of the house. The house itself is also overshadowed by trees to such extent that one can scarcely imagine it in the dazzling sunlit colours of Heckel's painting. Schmidt-Rottluff and, in later years, Franz Radziwill also depicted the same building on several occasions.
The picture dates from Heckel's second visit to Dangast in summer 1908. It signals a dramatic move away from the heavy impasto characteristic of his works done the preceding year towards a flatter, clearer manner of painting. The pigment is now sparingly applied, the composition dominated by flat, luminous planes of colour. Heckel at this time started diluting his paints with varnish or even paraffin, experimenting with ground pigments and attempting to devise a kind of thin distemper that might suit his increasingly rapid and impulsive brushwork.
House in Dangast marks perhaps the closest point of contact between any of the Brücke artists and the Fauves. One could easily convince oneself that, instead of the cold sunlight of Germany's North Sea coast, these were the brilliant colours of the Mediterranean captured by a painter like Vlaminck or Derain. Whether Heckel was aware of their work at so early a date remains open to question. Such influences could have been mediated through the example of Pechstein, who had discovered the art of the Fauves at first hand in Paris during the winter of 1907-1908. Paintings by fauvist artists including Derain, Van Dongen, Friesz, Marquet and Vlaminck were also exhibited in Dresden at the Kunstsalon Richter in September 1908 at the same time as a showing of the Brücke members' own work. Matisse, too, was known in Germany by 1909 at the latest, in part through his exhibition at Cassirer's in Berlin in January of that year. House in Dangast had, on the other hand, been painted as early as the preceding summer, and it is possible that Heckel had arrived independently at similar conclusions, and that his later statement that he was unaware of contemporary French art should be taken quite literally.
Dangast was one of several remote destinations favoured by the Brücke artists for their summer painting expeditions, when they would escape the stuffy confines of the city and immerse themselves in what they saw as a more "primitive" way of life.