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 Emil Nolde  (1867 - 1956)

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Lived/Active: Germany      Known for: Expressionist painting, printmaking

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Emil Nolde was a German Danish painter and printmaker.  He was one of the first Expressionists, a member of  Die Brücke, and is considered to be one of the great oil painting and 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 storm-scapes and brilliant florals.

Nolde's intense preoccupation with the subject of flowers reflect his continuing interest in the art of Vincent van Gogh.

Emil Nolde was born as Emil Hansen near the village of Nolde (since 1920 part of the municipality of Burkal in Southern Jutland, Denmark), in the Prussian Duchy of Schleswig.  He grew up on a farm; his parents, devout Protestants, were Frisian and Danish peasants.  Between 1884 and 1888, he trained as a craftsman and worked in woodcarving, and worked in furniture factories as a young adult.  In 1889, he gained entrance into the School of Applied Arts in Karlsruhe before becoming a drawing-instructor in Switzerland from 1892 to 1898, eventually leaving this job to finally pursue his dream of becoming an independent artist. 

As a child he had loved to paint and draw, but he was already 31 by the time he pursued a career as an artist.  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 in 1902 and moved to Berlin, where he would meet collector Gustav Schiefler and artist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, both of whom would advocate his work later in life.  He spent a brief time between 1906-1907 as a member of the revolutionary expressionist group Die Brücke (The Bridge), and as a member of the Berlin Secession in 1908-1910, but he eventually left or was expelled from both of these groups – foreshadowing of the difficulty Nolde had maintaining relationships with the organizations to which he belonged.  He had achieved some fame by this time and exhibited with Kandinsky’s Der Blaue Reiter group in 1912, supporting himself through his art.  From 1902 he called himself after his birthplace.

He realized his unsuitability for farm life and that he and his three brothers were not at all alike.  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.

Nolde was a supporter of the Nazi party from 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 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 he had been held in great prestige in Germany.  1052 of his works were removed from museums, more than those of any other artist.  Some were included in the Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937, despite his protests, including (later) 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".

After World War II, Nolde was once again honored, receiving the German Order of Merit, West Germany's highest civilian decoration.  He died in Seebüll (now part of Neukirchen).

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 describes 231 etchings, 197 woodcuts, 83 lithographs, and 4 hectographs.

Nolde's work is exhibited at major museums around the world, including Portrait of a Young Woman and a Child, Portrait of a Man ca. 1926, and Portrait of a Young Girl 1913-1914 at the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia; and Prophet, 1921 and Young Couple 1913 at Museum of Modern Art, New York City.  His most important print, The Prophet (1912), is an icon of 20th-century art.

No less a virtuoso in oils, he executed Lesende junge Frau (1906), Blumengarten (ohne Figur) (1908) and Blumen und Wolken (1933) which are iconic works in their own right.

Emil Nolde's work has become the focus of renewed attention after a painting entitled Blumengarten (Utenwarf) from 1917, which now hangs in the art museum Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden and has been valued at US$4,000,000, was discovered to have been looted from Otto Nathan Deutsch, a German-Jewish refugee whose heirs, including a Holocaust survivor, are asking for its return.  The Swedish government decided in 2007 that the museum must settle with the heirs.  Deutsch was forced to flee Germany before World War II and left for Amsterdam in late 1938 or early 1939.  The painting was sold to the Swedish museum at an auction in Switzerland, where it had resurfaced in 1967.  Other important works:
Lesende junge Frau, 1906, oil on canvas, Kunsthalle Kiel
Blumengarten (ohne Figur), 1908, oil on canvas, Sotheby's purchaser 8 February 2012
Anna Wieds Garten, 1907, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Steigende Wolken, 1927, oil on canvas, Karl-Ernst-Osthaus-Museum, Hagen
Grosse Sonnenblumen, 1928, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Blumen und Wolken, 1933, oil on canvas, Museum Sprengel, Hanover

In recent years, Nolde's paintings have achieved prices of several million US dollars, in auctions conducted by the leading international auction houses.

Peters, Olaf. Emil Nolde. Edited by Renee Price. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2001.
Knubben, Thomas. Emil Nolde: Unpainted Pictures. Hatje Kantz Publishers
Labedzki, Annette. "Emil Nolde - The German Expressionist Master of Darkness". Ezine Articles.
Savage, James. "Stockholm museum in row over Nazi loot".
The Local, 1 February 2008.
Hickley, Catherine. "Nazi Victim's Heirs Lose Patience With Sweden on Art (Update1)". Bloomberg L.P., 29 January 2008.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Emil Nolde was born Emil Hansen in 1867 in the North Schleswig village of Nolde in Germany; the area later became part of Denmark.  He was apprenticed at a furniture factory in Fiensburg and taught at the Museum of Industrial Arts on St. Gall, Switzerland from 1892 through 1898.

He did not change his name until he married Ada Vilstrup at the age of 34, in 1902.  He identified himself with the bleak environment of north Germany, acquiring an outer taciturnity and an inner turbulence.  As a peasant lad, he was given to hallucinations and gripped by a powerful primitive religious fervor, and he painted those dreams with vehemence and crash of color.  His temperament was essentially that of a solitary painter; he refrained from committing himself to any groups or associations.

Nolde applied paint with a typical looseness.  He believed spontaneity to be indispensable for creativity, asserting that "the quicker a painting is done, the better it is."  Like many expressionists, he particularly valued the emotive power of color, which also assumed a symbolic quality.  Many German critics have spoken of Nolde as the "pioneer of a national German art."

In 1933, Nolde was the only major German expressionist to join the Nazi Party.  The Nazis soon called him a 'degenerate' modern artist and stripped his works from German museums. In 1941 he was forbidden to sell his art or even to paint.  He retreated from Berlin to his summer home in Seebüll, not far from his birthplace on the North Sea Coast but he did not stop painting.  Lifelong friends looked after the Noldes; local merchants accepted paintings in exchange for food.  Because he feared the stench of turpentine, he gave up oils and instead painted some 1300 watercolors on small pieces of Japanese rice paper.  He hoped someday to use them as bases for oil paintings.  Nolde died in 1956 in Seebüll.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
Time Magazine, July 28, 1961 and March 17, 1967
An Invitation to See, Catalogue of Museum of Modern Art
Art & Antiques, March 1999
The Oxford Companion to Art, edited by Harold Osborne

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