March 23 - April 21, 2007
Nolde's watercolors stand out for their brilliance because they have none of the distractions of surface texture and emphatic brushwork that appear in the oils of other painters. The identity of the bloom is almost incidental, and color comes entirely into its own. Here the spaciousness of field or garden and the stiffness of cut flowers in the traditional indoor still-life subject have been abandoned, and the joy of pure color reaches a new pitch.
– John Gage, Masters of Color, Royal Academy Publications
Emil Nolde ((1867-1956) was born Emil Hansen, son of a peasant family living in Nolde in the coastal Schleswig area of Germany, near the Danish border (the artist began to call himself after his birthplace in 1902). He trained as a woodcarver and at the age of twenty-one moved to Munich to work carving ornamental furniture moldings. Nolde taught crafts for six years at the Museum of Industry and Trade in St. Gallen, Switzerland, where he began to paint in a conservative style. Nolde began to study art full time in 1898, at the age of twenty-one, studying at Friedrich Fehr's private school in Munich 1898-99 and with Adolf Holzel in Dachau 1899. He also spent part of 1899-1900 in Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian.
In 1901, Nolde settled in Copenhagen. Here he met Ada Vilstrup, whom he married in 1902. In the following years, living mainly in Berlin and on the island of Alsen, Nolde began to paint impressionist landscapes and interiors with brilliant colors and vehement brushstrokes. His first one-man exhibition was held at the Galerie Ernst Arnold, Dresden, in 1905 and 1906, he was invited to join Die Brücke (“The Bridge,” founded by Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff). For two years, he took part in the group’s touring exhibition projects but, fundamentally a solitary and intuitive painter, Nolde dissociated himself from that tightly knit group after a year and a half.
Nolde withdrew to Schleswig during 1909-12 to paint religious themes and developed a more expressionist style, with vivid colors and an emotional, visionary intensity. He traveled extensively within Germany, and in 1913-14 accompanied an official expedition through Russia and the Far East to New Guinea, which introduced him to "primitive" art. Upon his return, he continued to travel in Spain and Italy, returning the Schleswig area in 1921. In 1926, he moved permanently to an isolated farm near Seebüll where he remained for most of the rest of his life, living with his wife almost as a hermit (with occasional visits to an apartment he kept in Berlin), and painting continually in landscapes, seascapes, animal studies and botanicals. Nolde’s reputation was very high in Germany at this time and in 1927, his sixtieth birthday was celebrated with an official exhibition in Dresden. In 1931 he became a member of the Prussian Academy of Fine Art and in 1933 was offered the presidency of the State Academy of Arts in Berlin.
Although Nolde was an early advocate of Germany's National Socialist Party, when the Nazis came to power, they declared his work “decadent.” Over 1,000 of his works were removed from museums (some were later included in the Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937). From 1941, Nolde was forbidden to paint. He responded by retiring to his farm and working secretly in a small, half concealed room to paint over 1,300 small-scale watercolors–his "unpainted pictures."
After World War II, Nolde was once again honored, receiving the German Order of Merit, the country's highest civilian decoration. He continued to paint for the remainder of his life and died in Seebüll in 1956 at the age of eighty-eight.