Behold the Art of Emil Nolde

Above: Emil NoldePuppan und Papagai (Dolls & Parrot) c. 1919 oil on canvas 46.5×59.5cm Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammiungen, Munich Straatsgalier Moderne Kunst

German-Danish painter and print-maker Emil Nolde was born Emil Hansen  on 7 August 1867 near the village of Nolde (in Southern Jutland, Denmark), in the Prussian Duchy of Schleswig. His parents, devout Protestants, were Frisian and Danish peasants.

He did not like farm life so from 1884-1891, he studied wood carving and illustration in Flensburg.  In 1889, he gained entrance into the School of Applied Arts in Karlsruhe. From 1892 to 1898 he was a drawing instructor at the School of the Museum of Industrial and Applied Arts (Industrie- und Gewerbemuseum) in St. Gallen, Switzerland.  When he was rejected by the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1898, he spent the next three years taking private painting classes, visiting Paris, and becoming familiar with the contemporary Impressionist scene that was popular at this time.

  • He married Danish actress Ada Vilstrup and from 1902 changed his name to Emil Nolde, after his birthplace.

Above: Frau in Blumgarten (1907) oil on canvas 63x785cm Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum, Hagen

He became a member of the Dresden revolutionary Expressionist group Die Brücke (The Bridge), in 1906. As one of the first Expressionists, his oil paintings and watercolours demonstrated his exploration with colour; using golden yellows and deep reds. This gave  his work a luminous quality to otherwise sombre tones. His watercolours highlight vivid, storm-scapes and brilliant florals. Die Brücke  lasted only until the end of the following year.

From 1908 to 1910 he was a member of the Berlin Secession, before being excluded in 1910 due to a disagreement with the leadership. In 1912 he exhibited with Kandinsky’s Munich-based group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).

  • Nolde was a supporter of the Nazi party from the early 1920s, having become a member of its Danish section. He expressed anti-Semitic, negative opinions about Jewish artists, and considered Expressionism to be a distinctively Germanic style. This view was shared by some other members of the Nazi party, notably Joseph Goebbels and Fritz Hippler.
  • However Hitler rejected all forms of modernism as “degenerate art“, and the Nazi regime officially condemned Nolde’s work. Until that time Nolde had been held in great prestige in Germany.
  • A total of 1,052 of his works were removed from museums, more than those of any other artist. He was not allowed to paint—even in private—after 1941. Nevertheless, during this period he created hundreds of watercolours, which he hid. He called them the “Unpainted Pictures“.

After WW2, Nolde was once again honoured, receiving the German Order of Merit, West Germany’s highest civilian decoration.

  • He died in Seebüll (now part of Neukirchen) on 13 April, 1956.

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