SERIES OF EXHIBITIONS
”Copying nature faithfully and precisely does not produce
an artwork” – Emil Nolde Self Portraits
In his self-portraits, Emil Nolde broke away from the representational character of earlier works, for: “Copying nature faithfully and precisely does not produce an artwork.” Nolde initially used radical brush and ink drawing to explore his own features. His subsequent works in colour also show artistic self-confidence, and a mastery of his materials. The focus is always upon the eyes, which look directly and penetratingly at the viewer. He included his trademark hat and pipe in all types of these works. He sketched a small format self-portrait especially for his wife Ada. On the reverse of this image, hidden by folds and the frame, can be found the dedication in Danish “Min lille Musse, Bussi Bassiken” – To my little mouse, kisses tubby.
brush and ink drawing, 1907
Sixty Years of Acquisitions by the Nolde Foundation Seebüll
The Nolde Foundation manages the extensive estate of Emil Nolde, however there are gaps in the collection. The largest of these arose due to wartime losses of print graphics, but these losses have been almost completely redressed over the years. Yet this archive, which makes Seebüll the central location for research into the life, work and historical influence of Emil Nolde and of German Expressionism, is primarily supplemented through purchases. Nolde’s letters, for example, are therefore being repurchased. Even though Nolde is one of the most popular German artists, we know far from everything about the painter and his work – the archive harbours the key to deeper understanding. The foundation receives special contributions from the society “Freunde der Nolde Stiftung Seebüll e. V.” (Friends of the Nolde Foundation Seebüll), founded in 2011. Most recently, the purchase of 34 family album pages in Nolde’s hand is particularly noteworthy. These represent his earliest preserved works, dating from 1874.
“Mask (grim, with thin lips)”, charcoal drawing, 1894
“Dark ghosts, coming out of the hot embers of hell” – The rescued prints
After his encounter with the artists of ‘Die Bücke’ in 1906, Emil Nolde worked intensively with printmaking. His first woodcuts are mostly portraits that, like the work “Ada”, are frontal compositions which thematize the distribution of dark and light planes. After 1910 he integrated the grain as well as cracks and surface irregularities of the wood into the works, as can be seen in “Dr. S. (Sauerlant)”, for example. Nolde stored the copies most important to him in a flat-file cabinet in his live-in studio in Berlin. When an incendiary bomb struck the building on February 15, 1944, almost all of the print graphics went up in flames. Yet “of the roughly three thousand smaller and larger works I was able to recover from the rubble on the floor below a little package containing a couple of dozen half-burned and soot-blackened prints […]. The blackened prints, placed on white cartons, sometimes seemed like dark ghosts, coming out of the hot embers of hell.”
“Ada”, woodcut, 1906
“In a mentally free manner” – “Fantasies” and “Unpainted Pictures”
With his “Unpainted Pictures” Nolde referenced his series of large-format “Fantasies” from the 1920s and 1930s. Often difficult to understand, the latter are portrayals of strange beings that sprang solely from the artist’s imagination. To his friend Hans Fehr, Nolde wrote that the watercolours were “at a level I have never had before” and “created in a mentally free manner”. Nolde allowed his motifs to emerge out of the colours, and often only later outlined their contours in ink. In the “Unpainted Pictures” the artist used a smaller format he had been familiar with for many years. These are concentrated and intense in their expressive power and effect, and form a high point of Nolde’s late work. Their pictorial character encouraged him to execute almost fifty of these “unpainted” works (therefore the label) also as paintings. He did a few such paintings around 1940, but most of them after 1945.
“Triumph of Wisdom”, watercolour
“The flowers in the garden glowed purely and beautifully at me in jubilation …”
Emil Nolde found inspiration for his art in the garden: “The flowers in the garden glowed purely and beautifully at me in jubilation.” In his flower watercolours the artist showed no garden views, but rather individual blossoms in glowing colours. While summer plants stood thematically in the foreground initially, in the seventh decade of his life he increasingly included fall flowers. Until the end of his life, Nolde worked in watercolour, mostly inspired by the plants surrounding him in the paradisiacal garden on Seebüll. In his late work his once swift lines became choppier and more uncertain, and the clear forms became less regular and exact. While the individual layers of paint flowed into each other with less subtlety, his joy in strong colouration increased. These final works reveal signs of weariness in the eighty-plus year-old man, and yet they bear witness to his creative drive right to the end.
Three Yellow Dahlias and Pansies, watercolour
“Lofty lovely alpine world”
Emil Nolde is famous for his depictions of the broad plains of North Frisia. Yet throughout his life he was enthralled by the world of the Alps, finding in these mountains’ apparently unspoiled state the genuineness he tried to detect in everything. His love for the mountains began with his stay in St. Gallen from 1892 to 1897, where Nolde studied commercial drawing at the ‘Industrie- und Gewerbemuseum’. “It just tempted me to my own reckless clambering, I couldn’t help it. […] Lofty lovely Alpine world!” While the strongly coloured atmosphere glows in his depictions of valleys in his watercolours of the 1920s to the 1940s, when portraying mountain slopes Nolde was a master of colour reduction and subtle transitions. The artist achieved form through his use of colour, and preserved representationalism by using contour or horizon lines in his valley watercolours, and warm or dark colour accents in his pictures of the Alps.
“… to see and capture the ocean in its entire wild grandeur..”
The ocean accompanied Emil Nolde his entire life. Growing up in the marshy region along the North Sea, the ocean was a constant presence for Nolde from an early age. When in 1930 he fled to Sylt to escape the noise of construction in Seebüll, he had the desire, “[…] to be as alone as possible and to live and paint only as an observer, and I particularly wanted to […] see and capture the ocean in its entire wild grandeur.” In 1946 Nolde accompanied his wife Ada to the St. Peter health resort, where they hoped for an improvement of her health through a change of air. Full of worry he sought distraction in his work. He produced a series of watercolour seascapes with a lyrical atmosphere, which in their choice of theme, format, colouration and composition are closely related to the “Unpainted Pictures”. He formulated these atmospheric oceanscapes without any preliminary sketches. Their monumental layout led Nolde to develop some of them on canvas – just as with the “Unpainted Pictures”.
Radiant Sea (two white sails), watercolour, 1946
HE RELIGIOUS PAINTINGS: “NOT TO HAVE GOD BEFORE ME […], BUT GOD WITHIN ME, FIERY AND HOLY LIKE THE LOVE OF CHRIST.”
The religious pictures are among Emil Nolde’s most important and simultaneously most controversial works. By his estimate, he created the first painting of this series in 1909, and in 1911/12 he produced the major work of the series with the nine-piece “Life of Christ”. The central panel alone, “Crucifixion”, is the largest painting in Nolde’s entire oeuvre. In order to exhibit this preeminent work in Nolde’s former “workshop”, the floor was lowered about a metre and the north window bricked up. In his “biblical and legend pictures”, as Nolde called this group of works, he did not consider himself bound to an exact rendition of a biblical event or ecclesiastical dogma. In complete artistic freedom he portrayed a personal, fantastical event, that he experienced as “inwardly glowing” deep within himself.
Jesus und die Schriftgelehrten,