German artist Erich Mercker is known predominantly for his detailed and effusive works of industrial scenes.
Mercker was born in a German occupied province of France. His father was a military officer, and as a result Mercker became aware from an early age the issues of national pride and loyalty. Mercker also spent some time as a child in the industrial town of Mentz, a setting which would instil in him a life-long fascination with the mechanical and humans lives of industrial towns.
It was the family’s move to Munich, however, that really kicked into gear Mercker’s artistic interest. Munich was the centre of artistic passion and power in Germany and must have provided ample encouragement for Mercker. He did not, however, attend any art schools or receive any formal education. Instead, Mercker trained as a civil engineer.
Whilst increasing his technical knowledge of machinery, this seems to have also roused his artistic predilections further. Mercker could no longer ignore it: painting was the profession for him, and industrial scenes were his desired subjects. Although predominantly self-taught, Mercker did receive some tutelage from Martin Körte, a painter in Berlin.
He divined much inspiration, however, from the work of the impressionists and from the French Barbizon School. Both were preoccupied with painting from nature and imbuing those paintings with an emotional vein forming the heart of the piece.
Mercker infused his works with this same approach both emotionally and physically, utilising loose brush strokes and palette knives to create dramatic slashes of colour. Emotionally he approached industrial scenes of brutal metal and smoggy skies with the same reverence other painters afforded to nature. The burning heat of a furnace produces skies alight with burnished yellow flame as if at sunset.
Mercker was also, however, extremely strict about technical accuracy, something clearly inspired by his engineering training. This was not to say, though, that his paintings lost any of their emotional pull. The crux, for him, was the balance between artistic expression and technical coherency.
‘Just as a painter of the human figure absolutely must master the anatomy of the human body, the painter of technical subject matter can only fulfil his task properly, if he not only sees his subject with an artistic eye, but also with technical understanding,’ Mercker stated.
This attention to detail means there is a coherency to his works which even the mechanically illiterate eye can appreciate. His works of the construction of the German Autobahn are awash with bright colours, red cranes blushing, stone gleaming a wan white, and yet they are also technically accurate.
It was Mercker’s celebration of Germany’s industry that made him appealing to the Nazi party. Oftentimes, artists preferred to depict the industrial expansions within Europe as a gritty, grim affair in which workers were suppressed by the machines and those who owned them.
This was far from a nationalistic view, and therefore for the Nazi Party, which was trying to redefine the German identity and strengthen their political power, appreciated any artist who sought to celebrate industrial progress. The Nazis also appreciated more traditional forms of art, the antithesis of the more modernist, Avant Garde styles of art they perceived as ‘degenerate.’ Mercker was one such artist.
18 of Mercker’s paintings were purchased by the Nazi Party in the years preceding the Second World War. Hitler also furnished his own private residence with a further six of Mercker’s paintings. Clearly, the Nazis were good for Mercker’s career, and his art did very well under their regime. Despite this, Mercker did express horror at their actions when the party fell in 1945. But whatever the case, whether his membership into the Party was anything other than a move to preserve his career, Mercker never saw the same success as he did during Nazi rule in Germany.
Nonetheless, Mercker was still an active part of the German art scene in the years following the Second World War up until his death in 1973. He was awarded the honour of becoming President of the Munich Artist’s Association in 1965. Despite his renown as an industrial painter, Mercker also produced a large array of landscapes, cityscapes, and harbour scenes. These were executed with as much verve and vigour as the industrial scenes he so cherished.
He was attracted, it seems, to the meeting of human life and nature, and how they interact with each other. How mankind moulds nature as its own to create new inventions, new progresses and destructions.
At such a turbulent time for Germany, and indeed the world, Mercker’s work seems to reflect this agitation of life, this upset of things. A large number of his works are now held at the Grohmann Museum in the United States, dedicated to art depicting the evolution of human life.
Born in Saverne.
Family moved to Munich.
Studied civil engineering at Royal Institute of Technology in Munich.
Began exhibiting professionally in Munich.
Became a member of the Munich Artist’s Association.
Won a Gold Medal at the Exposition Internationale in Paris.
Studio bombed. Moved to Bavaria.
Returned to Munich.
Became President of the Munich Artist’s Association.
Died in Munich.