Station: [20] Erich Heckel: „Port Entrance“ (1916)

Almost paralyzed with shock we stand before the contrast between the blue, heaving sea and the red, sharp-edged clouds. It takes a moment for our eyes to turn away from the bizarre cloud formations and wander across the rest of the painting. Narrow paths wind through the coastal landscape past tiny houses towards the dunes. A structure, probably a lighthouse, withstands the attacking cloud fronts. The small trees, on the other hand, bend dangerously under the coastal wind. Doesn’t it seem as if the entrance jetties of the channel were literally rushing towards the horizon? The two curved lines unrelentingly direct our gaze towards the burning sky.

Erich Heckel was an important pioneer of German Expressionism. His painting shows the port entrance of the Belgian city of Ostend. This town held a special significance for the artist. During the First World War he was stationed there as a medical orderly. We know from his letters that Heckel could hear gunshots and machine gun fire in Ostend. Thus, he was never able to fully ignore the omnipresent threat of war. And precisely this is what the symbolic landscapes from this period of his career reflect. The aggressive, flaming clouds in “Port Entrance” may, in a way, be understood as an embodiment of war: like a storm, war creeps over the sea towards Ostend.