Bernhard Heisig

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Bernhard Heisig (2008)

Bernhard Heisig (born March 31, 1925 in Breslau , Lower Silesia; † June 10, 2011 in Strodehne , Brandenburg ) was a German painter . He is counted (with Hans Mayer-Foreyt , Werner Tübke and Wolfgang Mattheuer ) to the Leipzig School and is considered one of the most important representatives of art in the GDR . His painting goes beyond socialist realism in its abstraction , even if individual works or creative phases in which, for example, historical pictures ( Paris Commune ), a Dimitrov and Lenin portrait were created, speak against it.


Bernhard Heisig was the son of the Breslau painter Walter Heisig, from whom he also received his first training. From 1941 to 1942 he attended the arts and crafts school in Breslau. From 1942 to 1945 he participated as a volunteer in the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Youth" at the Second World War, in part, was repeated for. Some seriously injured, took part in the Battle of the Bulge and the battles for the “Fortress” Breslau , was taken prisoner by the Soviets and was released in 1945 as an invalid in Breslau. Later, he repeatedly addressed his traumatic experiences in the war in his pictures. In 1947 he was expelled from his hometown of Wroclaw. He settled in Zeitz and joined the SED there. From 1948 he studied in Leipzig , first at the University of Applied Arts, then from 1949 at the Academy for Graphic Art and Book Industry, before dropping out in 1951. In 1951 he married Brunhilde Eisler , with whom he had two sons. The marriage ended in divorce in 1956. His sons Johannes Heisig and Walter Eisler are also well-known painters and graphic artists. From 1951 to 1954 Heisig worked as a freelancer in Leipzig, focusing on drawings and lithographs relating to the 1848 revolution and the Paris Commune, as well as book illustrations for works by Ludwig Renn , Johannes R. Becher , Erich Maria Remarque and other authors.

In 1954 Heisig was appointed lecturer at the University of Graphic and Book Art in Leipzig , where he was appointed professor and rector in 1961 . From 1956 to 1959 he was also chairman of the Association of Visual Artists (VBK) in the Leipzig district . After his criticism at the VBK VBK in 1964 on the cultural policy of the SED and GDR government and the results of the so-called " Bitterfeld Way ", he was deposed as rector, but remained as a lecturer and head of the graphics and painting department at the university. In 1961 he met Gudrun Brüne , who studied painting with him and later became his second wife.

In 1968 Heisig quit his teaching position due to the increasing dogmatism at the art college and from then on worked as a freelancer again. Above all, he painted large, historical-political and social panoramas in the tradition of Max Beckmann and Oskar Kokoschka . In 1971 he was rehabilitated under Erich Honecker . A year later, Bernhard Heisig was again chairman of the Association of Visual Artists (VBK) in the Leipzig district, then Vice-President of the Association of Visual Artists of the GDR in 1974 and in this function was also 1st Deputy President of the VDK from 1978 to 1988. From 1978 to 1984 Heisig was also a member of the SED district leadership in Leipzig. In 1974 he was commissioned by the SED for a mural ( “Yesterday and in Our Time” ) for the building of the Leipzig district management of the SED, which he partially did in 2005 shortly before the start of the Leipzig retrospective ( The Wut of Pictures ) painted over.

In 1976 he returned to the University of Leipzig and became its rector . After handing over this function to his student and successor Arno Rink in 1987 , he continued to pursue his teaching duties. The painter Neo Rauch was a master student from 1986 to 1990 and assistant to Bernhard Heisig from 1993 to 1998.

In 1986 Helmut Schmidt had Bernhard Heisig portray himself for the gallery with the portraits of the former Federal Chancellors in the Federal Chancellery in Bonn. In 1989 Heisig returned the GDR national prizes awarded to him in 1972 and 1978 in protest against the policies of the GDR leadership and resigned from the SED in December 1989.

Although Heisig was accused of belonging to the Waffen-SS and his role as a state-sponsor in the GDR in 1998 , the cultural advisory council of the German Bundestag did not exclude him from participating in the design of the new parliamentary seat in Berlin.

After building a studio house, Bernhard Heisig and Gudrun Brüne lived and worked in Strodehne (later the municipality of Havelaue ) in the Havelland district in Brandenburg since 1992 .

Heisig was known for revising and changing his pictures over and over again.

Heisig died on June 10, 2011 after suffering two strokes in March 2011.

Exhibitions (selection)

in his lifetime
  • December 2018 to February 2019 - the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig presents its collection of 24 paintings and over 30 drawings by Bernhard Heisig together with loans


Book illustrations

  • 1969 - Johann Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen : Courasche. Trutz Simplex or a detailed and strange biography of the arch-cheater and troublemaker Courasche. With 32 drawings by Bernhard Heisig. Publishing house Philipp Reclam jun., Leipzig 1969.
  • 1998 - Heinrich Böll delivered the train on time with 7 original lithographs from Faber & Faber
  • 1979 - Ludwig Renn: War; with 24 lithographs; Publishing house Philipp Reclam jun. Leipzig; 1979
  • 1982 - Goethe: Faust. First volume (Faust I) with 44 drawings; Publishing house Philipp Reclam jun. Leipzig
  • 2002 - Faust Part I and II by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with 50 illustrations. Faber & Faber publishing house.


  • 1981: Leipzig / Harfenacker. Bernhard Heisig. A production by Saarland Radio / Television (45 minutes). Script and direction: Klaus Peter Dencker
  • “End of the great teaching”, director: Jens Arndt, 60 min. Film portrait about the father-son relationship between Bernhard and Johannes Heisig , arte / ZDF 2000
  • Bernhard Heisig, director: Reiner E. Moritz , documentation 53 min., Arthaus Musik GmbH 2009 (1991), ISBN 978-3-941311-82-4

Public collections (selection)



  • Michael Hametner: Bernhard Heisig and Gudrun Brüne - an artist couple over fifty years . Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle (Saale) 2018. ISBN 978-3-95462-993-0 .
  • April Eisman: Bernhard Heisig and the Fight for Modern Art in East Germany. Camden House, 2018. ISBN 1-64014-031-X
  • April Eisman: "Denying Difference in the Post-Socialist Other: Bernhard Heisig and the Changing Reception of an East German Artist." Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture, no.2 (2012): 45-73 ( PDF )
  • Renate Hartleb : Bernhard Heisig. Verlag der Kunst, Dresden 1975.
  • Sabine Heinke: Bernhard Heisig's work after the system change in 1989 using the example of his pictures on history and society . Dissertation, University of Giessen 2010 ( full text )
  • Bernhard Heisig: Pictures and pages from 35 years . Edition Brusberg ( PDF )
  • Bernhard Heisig, Ursula Bodo, Tim Sommer, Dieter Brusberg: Yesterday and in our time (= Brusberg documents; 40). Edition Brusberg, 2003 ( PDF )
  • art - the art magazine , 10/1989
  • art - the art magazine , 07/2005
  • Catrin Lorch: Under the German color sky . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , 11. – 13. June 2011, p. 16; obituary
  • Short biography for:  Heisig, Bernhard . In: Who was who in the GDR? 5th edition. Volume 1. Ch. Links, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4 .

Web links

Commons : Bernhard Heisig  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Battle for the fortress of Breslau . In: Tagesspiegel , August 15, 2006.
  3. Collection at a Glance: Bernhard Heisig . Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig, accessed on December 14, 2018.
  4. The picture was acquired by Joachim Fest and hangs behind the desk of the FAZ publisher (J. Voss: The gift . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung , June 15, 2014, p. 37).
  5. RBB news from June 29, 2010.