Jochen Hein at the German Historical Museum

Jochen Hein’s 2003 painting North Sea is travelling to Berlin for the exhibition Europe and the Sea, presented by Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) from 13 June 2018. The Hamburg painter’s picture consists of three parts and measures over five metres in length, and it is certain to generate enthusiasm among its viewers in the German capital.


Hein is very well known on the island of Föhr: two years ago, in 2016, the Museum Kunst der Westküste devoted the solo exhibition Jochen Hein – Above the Depth to him and he curated the show Beyond Time – Jochen Hein and the Collection of Art of the West Coast, in which he displayed his own works together with pieces he selected from the collection. North Sea was also included in that exhibition: as the first work, it opened the round of richly suggestive (in the fullest sense of the word) juxtapositions of old and new art.


Sowohl anlässlich der Ausstellungen, aber auch unabhängig von konkreten Projekten war Hein bereits mehrfach als artist in residence auf Föhr. Dabei konnte der gebürtige Husumer die Insel bestens kennenlernen und seine gesammelten Eindrücke in seine Arbeit einfließen lassen. Ob bereits im Alkersumer Atelier oder später in Hamburg entstanden dadurch zahlreiche neue Werke, in denen die nordfriesische Wattlandschaft in seine Kunst Eingang gefunden hat. Doch nicht erst seit dieser Zeit spielt ja das Meer für den Künstler eine prominente Rolle in seinem Schaffen. Vielmehr setzt er sich bereits seit vielen Jahren mit dem Element auseinander. Vielen Bildern gemein ist ihre verblüffend fotorealistisch anmutende Qualität, die auf den ersten Blick nicht den Eindruck eines Gemäldes erweckt. Doch ist alles mit dem Pinsel gemalt und auch die Nordsee, das zu den frühen Meeresbildern zählt, wurde in Acryl auf Jute realisiert. Als Hilfsmittel dienen Hein für die künstlerische Umsetzung Fotografien, die er unabhängig von konkreten Bildentwürfen macht. Dabei bedient er sich der Vorlagen jedoch nie eins zu eins, sondern verwendet sie als Gedächtnisstütze, als ein bildnerisches Sammelsurium, aus dem heraus er auf dem Bildträger ein Ganzes zusammensetzt.


Hein has already been an artist in residence on Föhr multiple times, both on the occasion of those exhibitions and independently of specific projects. In this context the native of Husum has been able to familiarise himself very closely with the island and incorporate the impressions gathered there into his work. Whether created directly in the Alkersum studio or later, in Hamburg, this has led to numerous new works in which the North Friesian Wadden, or mud flats, have made their way into his art. However, the sea had actually already played a prominent role in the artist’s work before that time. In fact, he has already been occupying himself with this element for many years. Many of the images share an astonishingly photorealistic effect, which does not suggest the impression of a painting at first glance. However, everything is painted with the brush, and North Sea – which is one of the early seascapes – was also carried out in acrylic on hessian. Photographs, which he takes independently of specific ideas for images, assist Hein in realising his artworks. At the same time, he never utilises his source material in a one-to-one manner; instead, it is used as an aid to his memory, as a storehouse of unorganised images out of which he creates a whole on the picture plane.


North Sea, with its gentle waves, is thus also the result of many previously created images. The landscape-format painting consists almost entirely of a bird’s-eye view down on to the water. Only at the upper edge of the painting can a narrow horizon be recognised, which provides the motif with a spatial limit. It seems as though the viewer were hovering above the water like a bird or looking down on to the glittering surface from a ship. There is nothing to distract us from the view on to the sea beneath us, whose sheerly infinite extension beyond the limits of the image is clearly palpable. Neither people nor animals disturb our view of the elemental mass of the sea, which has always been there and will also still be there after we are gone. The sea is sufficient unto itself and indifferent to the gaze of human beings. However, we can immerse ourselves in what we see there and even lose ourselves in it. In the end, though, from above the depth of the sea can only be inferred, and thus viewers are left exclusively with the many ideas that connect them with this element essential to life. Hein’s intention is to depict the eternal aspect of nature, which has no need for us human beings, as well as its beauty and sublimity in timeless images.


In the present day, when we view a painting like North Sea, it is nevertheless not just aesthetic questions that play a role, but also geopolitical, ecological and climatic issues. These, in part pressingly relevant, aspects are dealt with and presented on an interdisciplinary level in the exhibition Europe and the Sea. In this context Hein’s North Sea leads viewers back to the essential.


THREE OTHER WORKS from the Kunst der Westküste Collection CAN ALSO BE SEEN AT THE EXHIBITION:

Max Liebermann

Badende Knaben, 1902

Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 88,5 cm


Isaac Israëls

Das frische, zeitige Frühjahr auf der Seebrücke von Scheveningen, o. Dat.

Öl auf Leinwand, 50,5 x 40 cm


Michael Ancher

Ausblick vom Skagener Strand am frühen Abend, 1892

Öl auf Leinwand, 40 x 52 cm



13 June 2018 to 6 January 2019

An exhibition by the Deutsches Historisches Museum in partnership with the Jean Monnet Chair for European History at the University of Cologne

Deutsches Historisches Museum ∙ Stiftung öffentlichen Rechts

Unter den Linden 2

D-10117 Berlin



Dr. Sabine Schlenker, research associate/curator, Museum Kunst der Westküste