Emil Hansen Nolde Biography

Emil Hansen Nolde




Emil Nolde's art was the juxtaposition of a conservative upbringing and his own innovative experimentation in Expressionism. His education was brought about by his farmer parents who weren't sure what to do with their artist son. It was through a teaching position in Switzerland that he was exposed to artistic ideas that sparked his imagination, in the fine art, writing, and music that surrounded him. Being located within short traveling distance of nearly every bustling center of creativity, he became familiar with the work of Durer, Nietzsche, and Ibsen, and discovered DaVinci's ³Last Supper², which would remain a constant source of creative and spiritual inspiration.

A scientific expedition he was invited to join in 1913 took him to Siberia, China, Japan and the South Seas, where he studied the art of native cultures. It inspired him greatly, and it was at this time that his work gained a raw, passionate edge he had not achieved before. His religious works now espoused an air of wild abandon and lent a new feel to the expression of Christian ideology that many admirers of Nolde would consider revolutionary. In his color lithograph Die Heilgen Drei Könige (The Three Holy Kings), a bold burst of light from the upper left corner seems to push forward the three figures in their march toward the newborn Christ. His woodcuts in particular incorporate the bold, freeform movement of the native art he observed. In Familie we see a tribal father and mother, whose child gazes penetratingly from a small corner by his father's knee.

Nolde's life was a melting pot of contrasts, and produced undeniable conflict for his conscience. He spoke out fervently against the near-obliteration by Germany of the Native cultures he had observed on the expedition; yet he found a kinship with the National Socialist party, embracing what he saw as its conservative attitude toward social and political issues. However, his later work clashed with the party's mounting Nordic-purity movement, despite his declaration that Expressionism was a pure Germanic method. By the mid 1930s his work was classified as ³degenerate² by the same people he sided with politically. His image was changed irrevocably by the tide of dogmatic Nationalist declarations. Within a decade he saw Party members such as Joseph Goebbels embrace his work, while others lambasted it. Bettina Feistel-Rhomeder wrote of his work that it was a ³reflection of the racial chaos of Germany² (Stephanie Barron, ³Degenerate Art², pg 315). Ultimately, it was rejected by the Nazi regime, and he was forbidden to work. Despite his later battles to have Expressionist art accepted by his homeland, his search for acceptance as an artist and as a member of his beloved Germany was thwarted by his past; his dream would not be fulfilled before his death in 1956.