About us
Artists Emil Nolde
Emil Nolde Photo

Emil Nolde

German-Danish Painter, Printmaker, Watercolorist

Movements and Styles: Die Brücke, Expressionism, Der Blaue Reiter

Born: August 7, 1867 - Nolde, Denmark

Died: April 13, 1956 - Seebüll, Neukirchen, Germany

Emil Nolde Timeline

Quotes

"Everything that passed before one's eyes awakens the whole gamut that lies between joy and suffering, happiness and unhappiness."
Emil Nolde
"Not long ago only a few artistic periods were thought suitable for museums. Then they were joined by exhibitions of Coptic and early Christian art, Greek terracottas and vases, Persian and Islamic art. Buy why is Indian, Chinese and Javanese art still classified under ethnology or anthropology? Any why is the art of primitive peoples not considered art at all?"
Emil Nolde
"There is silver blue, sky blue and thunder blue. Every color holds within it a soul, which makes me happy or repels me, and which acts as a stimulus. To a person who has no art in him, colors are colors, tones tones and that is all. All their consequences for the human spirit, which range between heaven to the hell, just go unnoticed."
Emil Nolde

"I want so much for my work to grow forth out of the material just as in nature the plants grow forth out of the earth"

Emil Nolde Signature

Synopsis

Like the movement with which he was associated, Die Brücke, Emil Nolde's art creates a bridge from Germany's distant visual past to its more radical future. From medieval times until the onset of Romanticism in the early 19th century, the northern tradition, particularly in Christian religious images, was distinguished by an emotional quality that later, under the influence of Protestantism, was tempered by didactic characteristics. Under the influence of Romantic artists, traditional sacred iconography eroded into secular images that have been interpreted as imbued with mystical, spiritual overtones. Nolde, who was raised in the Protestant faith and grounded in readings from the Bible, turned away from these romantic depictions and back to biblical texts for visual inspiration. This restoration of specific, Christian imagery, whether executed as a painting or print, in a new, colorful style was not only a hallmark of his oeuvre but an important contribution to Expressionism and the northern visual arts tradition

Key Ideas

Nolde reintroduced religious subject matter, which had been a typical mainstay of northern art for hundreds of years. His interpretation retained the German predilection for expressive images but they were not rendered in a realistic style. Although based on biblical incidents from both the Old and New Testaments, his compositions abstracted and exaggerated forms to delineate figures in a compressed space, bypassing the use of traditional linear perspective to relate the story.
In addition to rethinking the use of these basic elements of art, Nolde seized upon color and used it in a bold, symbolic way that was new to the northern style of painting. He carried these ideas over into his watercolor paintings and injected them with a vitality that was previously not associated with the medium.
Emil Nolde is often viewed as an isolated figure in modern art, which would seem to mitigate his influence. Perhaps this is because of his self-imposed distance from organized art groups and his support for and later condemnation by the Nazi party. Nevertheless, his work is invariably included in discussions of German Expressionism and northern painting.
Nolde's well-honed skill as a wood-cutter allowed him to apply the principles of expressionism and abstraction marked particularly by strong contrast to the print medium as well, thus distinguishing him in another genre — printmaking - as well as painting.

Biography

Emil Nolde Photo

Childhood, Education and Early Period

Emil Nolde (née Hansen) was born in Nolde, Denmark in 1867 to Protestant peasant farmers. As a child he felt that he had little in common with his three brothers, who took well to farm life. His first exposure to the arts came through a four-year apprenticeship as a woodcarver and furniture designer starting in 1884. He spent his early years as a young adult working in furniture factories and traveling through Germany, visiting cities like Munich and Berlin.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Emil Nolde Biography Continues

Important Art by Emil Nolde

The below artworks are the most important by Emil Nolde - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Matterhorn Smiles (1897)

The Matterhorn Smiles (1897)

Artwork description & Analysis: One of Nolde's most commercially successful postcards, The Matterhorn Smiles anthropomorphizes that iconic Alpine mountain giving it human facial features. This photomechanical reproduction from an original lithograph, demonstrates that Nolde was already exploring ways to use the medium in less realistic and representational ways.

As Nolde discovered upon his arrival in Paris, this kind of image was related to the art of the Symbolists. Typically identified by emerging "eerie, phantasmagorical creatures," according to art historian Karl Ruhrberg, Nolde's postcards openly demonstrate an engagement with the same idea, turning mountains into grotesque, human-like figures (much like Odilon Redon did earlier).

The other, more abstract strain of Symbolism, represented by Paul Gauguin, combined color and Christian iconography in a new, expressive way that Nolde later made his own. Gauguin and his contemporary, Vincent van Gogh, who might be considered the forerunners of Expressionism, were both important influences upon Nolde. Like them, he does not use color to precisely render a photorealistic image, but rather to create a wistful look at an imagined scene. In his Matterhorn image, he uses an impressionistic approach to render the mountain but presents it as a face imbued with human emotion. By freeing the mountain from its grounding in nature, Nolde has established the basic premise for Expressionism as he later practiced it.

Photomechanical print in color on coated cream b-wove card, with inscriptions in pen and blue ink (recto) and pen and brown ink (verso); with postal stamps (verso) - Art Institute of Chicago

Joy In Life (Lebensfreude) (1905)

Joy In Life (Lebensfreude) (1905)

Artwork description & Analysis: Although Nolde was living in Berlin at the time this print was created, it is reminiscent of Matisse's fauve painting of the same year in both title and spirit. He produced Joy In Life shortly before joining the Die Brücke group after having been in conversation with its members during this period. Their influence can be seen most notably in the subject matter. The etching represents two exuberant figures, a man and woman, in the foreground dancing. The background recalls Nolde's earlier Symbolist influences in the row of mountains with human faces.

Dance was an art form that heavily interested Die Brücke artists. In many ways, it embodied important ideas about self-expression for the group. Its ability to be spontaneous, abstract and expressive without necessary concern for formalized technique fit with what the group was hoping to accomplish with their artworks. The accessibility of dance was also important; almost everyone can dance and use it as a form of self-expression, and the group was interested in finding new ways to relate to the masses.

As an etching, Joy In Life exemplifies how Nolde engaged with the medium in a new and dynamic way. Although he saw Dürer's masterful prints during his travels the previous decade, by this point, he was no longer interested in making prints from his etchings as exact reproductions. Influenced by the lithographs and prints of Honoré Daumier and Edouard Manet that he saw in Paris, he treated each print as a unique work. He experimented with technical aspects of the medium such as the amount of ink and paper types and pushed the medium to act beyond its original intention of easily duplicating an image with drawing-like precision. In doing so, and through teaching other artists his ideas and techniques, the nearly obsolete medium of printmaking, for which German art was known, saw a resurgence, and grew to become one of the most popular ways of proliferating art in early-20th-century Germany.

Etching (ink on paper) - Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Last Supper (1909)

The Last Supper (1909)

Artwork description & Analysis: Religious subject matter appeared in Nolde's oeuvre shortly after recovering from a bout with food poisoning that nearly killed him. These works are widely considered to be his most powerful. The gaunt appearance of Christ in the piece has led some to speculate that Nolde identified with Him, having just recovered from a near death experience. The choice of subject matter may be attributed to Nolde's early travels that included a trip to Milan where he viewed Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. Its influence remained with him for years afterward. However, this painting is starkly different from traditional representations of the religious scene. There is no depth or spatial context to the space, no sprawling table, just 13 men mostly surrounding the central figure. The light source seems to come from Christ himself at the center of the canvas. Painted in bright yellows, reds, oranges, and white, Christ is almost crowded by darker figures, looking on as he holds a chalice in his hands. Nolde's concern with this piece was not to illustrate a scene from the New Testament, but rather to capture the emotion and experience of Christ turning water to wine. The colors, composition, and loose brushstrokes, all hallmarks of the style of Die Brücke, work together to express how Nolde imagined that moment to be.

Painted just after leaving Die Brücke, The Last Supper met with great success. In 1912, it was acquired by the museum in Halle. It was not, however, without strong objection. Dr. William von Boden, a leading authority of the time, who had himself curated a collection of old master paintings in Berlin, strongly objected to its acquisition because of its non-traditional presentation.

Oil on canvas - Staten Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark)

More Emil Nolde Artwork and Analysis:



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Emil Nolde
Interactive chart with Emil Nolde's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Vincent van GoghVincent van Gogh
James EnsorJames Ensor
Albrecht DurerAlbrecht Durer

Personal Contacts

Gustav Schiefler
Karl Ernst Osthaus

Movements

Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism

Influences on Artist
Emil Nolde
Emil Nolde
Years Worked: 1884 - 1956
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Karl Schmidt-RottluffKarl Schmidt-Rottluff
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Cheng-Khee Chee

Personal Contacts

Gustav Schiefler
Karl Ernst Osthaus

Movements

ExpressionismExpressionism

Useful Resources on Emil Nolde

Books

Websites

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography / catalogues

Emil Nolde: Retrospective Recomended resource

By Felix Kramer, Max Hollein, Christian Ring, and Aya Soika

Emil Nolde: Artist of the Elements

By Averil King

German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse Recomended resource

By Starr Figura, Peter Jelavich, Heather Hess, Iris Schmeisser

Lives of the Great 20th Century Artists

By Edward Lucie Smith

More Interesting Books about Emil Nolde
Nolde Museum Recomended resource

Museum and Garden in Seebüll, Germany

Emil Nolde

The Museum of Modern Art
Good collection of his works available for viewing online

Emil Nolde's Young Couple (1913)

MoMA Celebrates 1913

Lecture - German Expressionist Art 1905 - 1937

The San Diego Museum of Art - Friday Morning Lecture and Tour Series

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Ximena Kilroe

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ximena Kilroe
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]

Did we succeed in explaining the art to you?
If Yes, please tell others about us: