Emil Nolde (1867 – 1956)

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Masks, 1911

Emil Nolde was a German painter and printmaker, who was one of the first Expressionists, a member of Die Brücke, and is considered to be one of the great watercolor painters of the 20th century. He is known for his vigorous brushwork and expressive choice of colors. Golden yellows and deep reds appear frequently in his work, giving a luminous quality to otherwise somber tones. His watercolors include vivid, brooding stormscapes and brilliant florals.

Red Flowers

He was born as Emil Hansen on a farm in North Schleswig near the village of Nolde, Germany, near the present-day German-Danish border which is now part of the Danish municipality of Burkal. He died in Seebüll, Neukirchen, Germany. He was raised on a farm by his parents who were devout Protestants of Frisian and Danish descent. Even as a boy, he drew and painted, and from 1902 and on, he called himself after his birthplace.

White Tree Trunks, 1908

Between 1884 and 1891, he studied to become a carver and illustrator in Flensburg. He spent his years of travel in Munich, Karlsruhe and Berlin. From 1906 to 1907, he was a member of the artist group Die Brücke (The Bridge).

The Last Supper, 1909

Nolde was a supporter of the Nazi party in the early 1920s, having become a member of its Danish section. He expressed 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.

The Wave

However, Hitler rejected all forms of modernism as “degenerate art”, and Nolde’s work was officially condemned by the Nazi regime. Until that time, he had been held in great prestige in Germany. Over 1,000 of his works were removed from museums, and some were included in the Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937, despite his protests, which including a personal appeal to Nazi gauleiter Baldur von Schirach in Vienna. He was not allowed to paint, even in private, after 1941. Nevertheless, during this period he created hundreds of watercolors, which he hid. He called them the Unpainted Pictures.

Wildly Dancing Children

After World War II, Nolde was once again honored, receiving the German Order of Merit, the country’s highest civilian decoration. Apart from paintings, Nolde’s work includes many prints often in color and watercolor paintings of various sizes, including landscapes, religious images, flowers, stormy seas, and scenes from Berlin nightlife. A famous series of paintings covers the German New Guinea Expedition, visiting the South Seas, Moscow, Siberia, Korea, Japan, and China. The Schiefler Catalogue raisonné of his prints contains 231 etchings, 197 woodcuts, 83 lithographs, and 4 hectographs.


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