The centrepiece of the Nolde Foundation Seebüll is the collection with the archive. The foundation possesses the largest holdings of paintings, watercolours, drawings, prints, sculptures, ceramics and crafts by Emil Nolde worldwide. The archive harbours Nolde’s estate with extensive correspondence, and innumerable documents and photographs. These allow personal insights into the character and appeal of the artist. Furthermore, the collection and archive are a central research centre for Expressionism in general.

Bernhard Fulda, Aya Soika
Emil Nolde and National Socialism:
An artistic myth of the 20th century.

Of all the expressionist artists represented in the 1937 propaganda exhibition “Degenerate Art”, Emil Nolde (1867–1956) was the sole member of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party), and was highly esteemed by many top Nazi officials and art collectors. This also continued after the occupational ban imposed on him by the Reich Chamber of Culture in the summer of 1941. Despite his unbroken sympathies with National Socialism until 1945, after the end of the Second World War Nolde was regarded as the embodiment of the persecuted artist, and his so-called “unpainted pictures” were considered an example of indomitable creativity in times of totalitarian dictatorship. In cooperation with exhibition organizers, publishers, journalists, art historians and art dealers, Nolde largely succeeded in keeping his Nazi past out of the public view, and separating it completely from his artistic work. After his death, this approach was continued by the administrators of the Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation Seebüll that Nolde had endowed. Influential museum directors such as Carl Georg Heise (1890–1979), Alfred Hentzen (1903–1985) and Werner Haftmann (1912–1999) played an important role in this on the one hand, helped on the other hand by the specific media dynamics and conventions of art reporting in post-war Germany.

Within the framework of a research project, Dr. Bernhard Fulda is investigating Emil Nolde’s relationship with National Socialism comprehensively for the first time, and combining this with a reception history of Nolde, particularly after 1945. His goal is to combine previous research on the myth of the artist and the political cult of personality, and to investigate Nolde’s interpretation of National Socialism in the context of the cultural construct of the artistic “genius”. The planned study is to be based upon the rich source materials, until now not fully developed as an archive, of the Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation Seebüll. Key questions concern, on the one hand, the Foundation’s role in conveying knowledge about Emil Nolde’s art and character, and on the other hand the press coverage and wider media context, as well as the institutional structure of art mediation within the (west-) German and international Museum landscape.

The goal of the current project is to locate Emil Nolde’s behaviour during the years of the National Socialist dictatorship within a broader social, communicative and institutional context, in which the artist was reacting to the initiatives and suggestion of his friends and admirers, as well as attempting to position himself, based on the information he had available and against the attacks of his critics, within the Nazi art scene. Dr. Fulda would like to add to our understanding of the artistic production, art reception, and ambiguities of Nazi art politics in the years between 1933 and 1945. In the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation Seebüll, and to Nolde’s 150th birthday in 2017 that coincides with the 80th anniversary of the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, this plan promises the development of a historical-critical perspective of Nolde’s work, which will also be reflected in future exhibitions. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz) will support the Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation Seebüll within the framework of this project as well as in developing their archival holdings, in order to make Emil Nolde’s legacy more easily accessible to researchers in the future.

The project will be supported through research scholarships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

Indina Woesthoff
“It is always a celebration, when a letter arrives from you.”
On the exchange of letters between Ada and Emil Nolde with Gustav and Luise Schiefler

The Hamburg lawyer and print collector Gustav Schiefler and his wife Luise were two of Emil Nolde’s closest friends and supporters for forty years. It is thus a rare stroke of luck for Nolde research, and indeed for research into classical modernism in general, that the correspondence between the artist couple and their collector friends, with almost 700 letters, has been almost completely preserved. It is a first-class primary source, of which there are only very few for Nolde.

1906 was the first time Nolde entered Schiefler’s house: advertised by the Hamburg gallerist Commeter as “painting in a fashion similar to Munch”. The collectors’ initial misgivings toward a supposed “imitator” quickly gave way to an enthusiasm that found constant nourishment in Nolde’s technical brilliance and love of experimentation. “Love, understanding and interest” formed the basis of Schiefler’s art connoisseurship – an attitude that corresponded to a great extent with Nolde’s character and self-concept.

Schiefler admired and respected Nolde’s “artistic personality”. As was otherwise only rare in Nolde’s circle, he was able to overlook minor annoyances and quarrels: “(Nolde’s) art is a jealous goddess”, Max Sauerlandt once stated. Schiefler almost always succeeded in making sacrifices to this supreme principle, and did so without having to give up his own points of view.

The correspondence, that also contains lengthy letters between the wives, gives a lively and detailed picture of Nolde’s life and work from 1906 right into the 1950s. If one views them along with Nolde’s autobiography, then numerous aspects emerge: the dates of works, trips, and encounters can now be conclusively and sometimes completely newly established. Contexts become clear, and Nolde’s memories find their correct “interfaces”. For the first time it is possible to shine a critical light upon significant aspects of Nolde’s self-representation, and view them in a new light.

The exchange of letters is complemented by Schiefler’s diary entries, as well as by further letters and documents from the estates. An extensive commentary and several indexes complete the two-volume edition, and will hopefully allow them to become a pleasure to read, and not just for art researchers.