Emil Nolde – Expressionist

Emil Nolde - 1909 - Wildly Dancing Children
Emil Nolde – 1909 – Wildly Dancing Children

“Sometimes it seems to me that I am capable of absolutely nothing, but that nature through me can accomplish a great deal.” Emil Nolde

On August 7, 1867, Emil Nolde was born. His destiny was to be one of the first Expressionists, and a member of Die Bruckel (The Bridge), a group of German Expressionist artists formed in the city of Dresden in the year 1905; and a member of the Berlin Secession from 1908 to 1910.  Known for his vibrant choice of colors – golden yellows and deep reds – Emil Nolde’s artistry has a lustrous appearance, even when his message was of a somber nature.

Emil Nolde challenges us with his art and political views (he was an ardent supporter Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party). It is easy to embrace artwork when it is created by someone who shares our belief systems. We connect a painting with the painter and his or her life story. Do we understand and value the reasons for the artist’s creative outflow?

When we feel dissonance, do we reject the artwork simply because we reject the opinions or actions of the artist?

We live within complexity. Perhaps the way to respond is to look deeper into the artist’s journey to gain perspective and appreciation. Check out this marvelous 5-minute video by the National Galleries of Scotland that highlights the work of Emil Nolde.

20 Comments

  1. Ms Frances

    Thank you for this post. The video was exceptional and I truly enjoyed it. I, of course, object to his antisemitism, his backing of Adolph Hitler, but his art is truly one of a kind. I was surprised to learn that he was partly Danish, but being born very near to Denmark would give answer to that. I find it disconcerting that he was “ante Jew”, but I must get beyond my bias and acknowledge that his work is that of a genius. Thank you for this valuable post.

    1. Clanmother

      I agree – he had an artistic genius that cannot be denied. When you see Nolde’s garden (stay tuned for another post that is coming soon) you will again wonder how beauty can occur when it comes from one who has a contrary value system. Nolde was fascinated by Vincent Van Gogh art and took a great interest in flowers.What I found interesting is that his art was rejected by the very people who he believed to be in the “right.” Thank you or your comments – very much appreciated.

    1. Clanmother

      It is indeed – and along the way, art allows us to explore how we respond to historical realities and belief systems. Complexity at every turn. And that is what makes it a profound and welcoming conversation.

  2. Gallivanta

    This is such a complex issue, Rebecca. I struggle with it in so many areas these days. Are artists held to a lesser standard because of the beauty they create? Are we morally obligated to hold dead artists to our current standards? In Nolde’s case I am surprised he continued to support the Nazi party after its stance against his art but maybe he felt the nation was more important than his art. I have no idea, as this post is the first time I have heard of Nolde. In other scenarios, I judge one leader for sexual misconduct, whereas years ago I refused to judge another leader for his sexual misconduct. Best not to judge, probably. Better to seek wise counsel. 🙂

    1. Clanmother

      Those are the same questions that I ask myself. I share your struggle for we are continually being challenged by creative endeavours, from music, to theatre, to art. Looking back, consider “The Absinthe Drinker” by Edouard Manet. Manet’s former master declared, when presented with the painting, that Manet had lost his moral sense. When submitted to the Paris Salon in 1859, The “Absinthe Drinker” was rejected by all with the exception of Eugene Delacroix. I ask myself – what did Delacroix see that the others did not see? Would I have been so accepting? I think not. Over the course of my life, my thoughts and opinions have experienced significant shifts, hopefully for the better. As I read your comments, Maya Angelou’s thought came to mind: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Thank you for your insights – they are truly valued and appreciated!

      1. Clanmother

        You are so right. How we strive (I love that word because it signifies that it will take effort) to learn will define our journey and ultimately give joy to our lives. Hugs!!!

  3. Mary Jo Malo

    The wonderful thing about this blog, Rebecca, is not only the art education you offer but also its thought provoking ideas. I too struggle with what Valerie Davies mentions, and there are times I wish we didn’t know anything about the personal lives of these artists and writers beyond their work. Such disappoint ensues, but human beings are always more complex than we care to admit.

    1. Clanmother

      How very, very well said, Mary Jo. The story of humanity is rich with contradictions, complexities and paradoxes. My first career revolved around numbers : 2+2=4. Numbers provide a simple and elegant reasonability, offering a structured and consistent path of “input and output.” A few years ago, I decided that I would venture into the world of “art.” After all, Leonardo da Vinci was an excellent mathematician. YIKES!! I have learned that art is a reflection of who we are as individuals and as a society. What came as a surprise was how emotionally and intellectually involved I became in this “research.” I continue to learn. I value and appreciate you insights. Thank you!!!

  4. Liz

    Thank you once again for highlighting such an interesting artist. I agree with you that we can gain value from engaging with an artist, even if his or her style of work is not necessarily to our test. I am looking forward to seeing the NGS exhibition of Nolde’s work. I expect to be challenged and tested by his pictures – bring it on!

    1. Clanmother

      I wish I could beam on over to join you, Liz. The NGS is truly remarkable for presenting art and artists in ways that challenge us to look deeper into our humanity and cultural/spiritual perspectives. There are no easy answers. So, like you, I have taken a deep, deep breath, and said “bring it on!” I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the NGS exhibition of Emil Nolde’s artwork. There is always an adventure!!

  5. valeriedavies

    What challenging and interesting thoughts here, Rebecca… especially the idea of accepting an artist’s work even though we may disagree wit his philosophy… that’s a hard one when it’s associated with Nazism… and one would have to know if he grew out of it as so many did when they discovered what was being done in Germany…

    You’ve given me much to ponder, as I think of other artists and what we know of their credos … writers it’s easy to perceive, but painters, architects… are harder to
    explore… so in the end, we have to listen to our gut feelings, I suppose, and examine how we respond to their work in a visceral way…

    1. Clanmother

      How insightful, Valerie! I agree!! Writers, philosophers, politicians – we hear their words and then measure their actions for confirmation of their values and beliefs. Even decades later, their writings are much easier to sort through when viewed in the context of history than an artist who uses paint and brushstrokes to send a message. Creativity also comes from a different perspective – artists are generally more focused on their work rather than the sensibilities of others. Art comes first – which is a good thing, I think. I love the thought by Georgia O’Keeffe “I know now that most people are so concerned with themselves that they are not aware of their own individuality. I can see myself, and it has helped me to say what I want to say in paint.” Food for thought!

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