A painters’ reunion at art museum

Photo by Chris Rogers

Minnesota Marine Art Museum Board Chair Bill Hoel addresses the crowd at Sunday’s unveiling event. From left to right, the museum welcomed new additions: Erich Heckel’s “Blick Auf Das Ufer (View of the Shore),” Gabriele Münter’s “Staffelsee,” Lyonel Feininger’s “Kleine Yacht,” and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s “Der Wasserfall (The Waterfall).”



Over a century after they changed the course of art history, German Expressionists are getting the band back together in Winona.

On Sunday, Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM) founders Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter unveiled four new paintings from German and German-American artists, including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel. It was the first unveiling at the museum since 2019, when works by fellow German Expressionists Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde joined the Winona collection. 

In the early 1900s, Kirchner, Heckel, Pechstein, and Nolde were all members of Die Brücke (The Bridge) movement, a group of young, boundary-pushing artists. Their art would later be labeled “degenerate” and suppressed by the Nazi regime.

“That’s a joy that these old buddies are getting to reunite in Winona, Minnesota,” art historian Peter Trippi said. Between the destruction of Nazis propagandists and Allied air raids, “Having a picture like this at all is a blessing because there are not many left existing in the world,” Trippi said of Heckel’s “Blick Auf Das Ufer (View of the Shore)” painting.

MMAM invited Trippi, the editor of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, to speak at the unveiling and provide a historical frame for the paintings and artists. “This is world-class art, and in New York we would be thrilled to have this museum,” he said to hearty applause from MMAM members.

Burrichter highlighted the loud pinks, blues, and blacks in Kirchner’s “Der Wasserfall (The Waterfall),” and the rushing stream’s palpable force. While taking it in, she said, “We actually almost felt like the water was splashing on our feet.”

“This kind of energized, almost frenzied vision of nature was absolutely not what Hitler wanted to see, even though it was already 12 years old,” Trippi said of the eventual blacklisting of the 1919 painting. The Expressionist style of The Bridge movement was a huge departure from the formal, romanticized realism that dominated art at the time, he explained.

Describing Heckel’s “View of the Shore,” Tripp said, “It is pulsing with energy. It has energetic brushwork. It has extreme, high-key, non-naturalistic colors that are squeezed straight from the paint tube onto the palette … It is not trying to record every detail. It is trying to convey feeling as much as place.” 

The other two paintings unveiled on Sunday were Gabriele Münter’s landscape, “Staffelsee,” and Lyonel Feininger’s “Kleine Yacht.” By comparison, Münter and Feininger’s compositions were calmer and more lifelike. Trippi highlighted the saturated color in Münter’s mountain lake scene and the blocky, Cubist-influenced lines in Feininger’s sailboat subject. Describing the artistic movement to which Münter belonged, Trippi explained, “The Bridge was very much about the eye and the outside world. This crew down in Munich, The Blue Rider, was more interested in the soul and that feeling of symbolism.”

The four paintings are set to be on exhibit at MMAM starting October 12. For more information, visit http://www.mmam.org.