Carl Heidenreich

German, 1901-1965

Though undated, this painting stylistically closely resembles city scenes from the early 1930s.  Heidenreich, a student of the influential Hans Hofman, began his work painting in a naturalistic style which quickly evolved through the different strands of modernism and eventually abstraction late in his career.  He learned the principles of German Expressionis and French Fauvism from Hofmann, and applied them to the expressive use of color in this street scene, mostly likely Berlin.  Like many in his generation, he used his painting to reflect on the fragmentation of modern life, especially during the turbulent 1930s in Germany.


Carl Heidenreich was at the core of Germany’s avant-garde. His breakthrough came in 1933 when he received an offer for a solo exhibition of his brooding cityscapes at Galerie Nierendorf, but plans for the show came to a disastrous and abrupt halt with the election of Adolf Hitler. While Heidenreich’s paintings did not label him a "degenerate", his political activism did - he was denounced as a communist, his show forbidden, his studio ransacked, 200 pictures destroyed, and eventually jailed in Moabit by the Nazis.

After his imprisonment, Heidenreich fled to Spain and France, joined the Spanish resistance, was twice imprisoned and tortured in Spain, and twice interned in France. He managed to leave Europe at the last moment, sailing from Marseilles in 1941.  In New York, Heidenreich joined a large community of German exiles, found jobs in factories, and eventually was able to resume his work as an artist.

Heidenreich's watercolors and oil paintings record his journey of exile and reveal influences of German Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism in the post-war decades.  In 1963, exhibitions of Heidenreich’s work were presented in Frankfurt and Berlin. Following his death in 1965, his paintings and watercolors were distributed among friends and collectors, and have only recently returned to public attention.  In 2004 Goethe-Institut, New York published the first major catalog of the artist’s work.

Anne M. Wagner, "Heidenreich's Abstraction" The Threepenny Review #101 (Spring 2005)


Sources include:
additional information courtesy of Richard Buxbaum