The Nolde exhibition at the Städel Museum
From 5 March to 15 June 2014, the Städel Museum will be devoting a major exhibition to the lifework of one of the most prominent German Expressionists, Emil Nolde (1867–1956).
Emil Nolde. Retrospective
Although Nolde’s oeuvre has been represented in numerous special thematic exhibitions, the last retrospective to pay tribute to his work in Germany took place twenty-five years ago. Some 140 works will be on view, among them such masterworks as Springtime in the Room (1904), The Life of Christ (1911/12) or Candle Dancers (1912), but also a number of paintings and prints by the artist hitherto never shown outside of Seebüll. Realized with support from the Nolde Foundation Seebüll and many lenders, the show will draw from new research findings to provide an overview of the wide diversity of Nolde’s oeuvre. The selection will range from Expressionist landscapes to glittering nocturnal scenes of Berlin, exotic South Seas motifs, and religious depictions. Arranged in rough chronological order, the retrospective will comprise paintings, watercolours and prints from all phases of the artist’s career. A special focus will be directed towards Nolde’s early and late work, which past exhibitions have often tended to neglect.
Of Giants, Flowers and Oceans
On the two floors of the exhibition annex, Emil Nolde. Retrospective will showcase the artist’s lifework in twelve sections covering the entire breadth of its thematic and media diversity. It will begin with Nolde’s early work. His first painting, Mountain Giants (1895–96) from the Nolde Foundation Seebüll, already anticipates the artist’s fascination with the fantastic and grotesque that would later turn up in his oeuvre again and again. The painting will be shown in the first room of the exhibition along with works testifying not only to the early influence of Danish painting on Nolde, but also how he was inspired by French Impressionism. He made his artistic breakthrough with paintings of flowers and gardens in which he experimented with the potential of colour. These motifs, considered characteristic of Nolde, will be on view in the second room of the show along with figural works carried out during the same period. The latter are distinguished by a rather two-dimensional painting manner, as exemplified by the major composition Free Spirit (1906). The following room will address Nolde’s approach to abstraction as seen in the Autumn Seas series (1910).
Religious Works and Scenes of Berlin
Religious subjects are among the brightest highlights in his oeuvre. Nolde realized Old and New Testament motifs – for example the Burial (1915) – with vivid colours and a two-dimensional application of paint. The following room will be devoted exclusively to the prominent altarpiece of The Life of Christ (1911/12), which by way of exception – especially for the Städel retrospective – will be permitted to leave the exhibition gallery designed for it in Seebüll. After the Nazis had confiscated this nine-part Biblical cycle – Nolde’s magnum opus – from the Museum Folkwang in Essen, it was prominently featured in the first room of the defamatory Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich. Nolde’s religious paintings will be followed by his observations of Berlin, where he lived half of every year from 1905 onwards. Masterworks of German Expressionism such as In the Coffeehouse (1911) from the Museum Folkwang in Essen or Dancer in a Red Dress (1910) from the Kunsthalle Emden portray the boisterous nightlife in the German metropolis. For the first time, these works are being presented alongside political and socio-critical paintings by the artist such as Soldiers (1913) or Battlefield (1913). It was in Berlin as well that Nolde became interested in non-European aesthetics and art, the subject of the next room. The painting Exotic Figures (Fetishes I) (1911) is based on drawings Nolde made of objects on display at the Königliches Museum für Völkerkunde (Royal Ethnological Museum).
Views of an Exotic World: Fantasy and Contemplation of Nature
The show will continue on the upper floor of the exhibition annex with the works executed during and after Nolde’s participation in an expedition of the Reichskolonialamt (Imperial Colonial Office) to New Guinea. The fiery palette of Tropical Sun (1914) from the collection of the Nolde Foundation Seebüll manifests the artist’s longing for a natural idyll untouched by Western civilization. The section on the South Seas will be followed by a presentation of Nolde’s works of the years 1915 to 1932, a period in which he concentrated on motifs in his native region of Northern Schleswig. There he portrayed the unbridled natural force of the sea as well as his flower garden, which – in works such as Close Evening (1930) – he juxtaposed with the bleak Nordic scenery. He also painted watercolours of flowers in rich abundance, great variety and gay hues. The exhibition will spread out a vivid tapestry with altogether twenty such paintings hung closely side by side. In addition to flowers, one of Nolde’s main interests in this phase was fantastic motifs which, like the Sea Woman (1922), reveal the influence of Arnold Böcklin. Among the works distinguished by their grotesque subjects is the watercolour Animal and Woman (1931–1935) from the Fantasies series, which in our show will form a transition to the watercolours that came to be known as the Unpainted Pictures.
“Unpainted Pictures” and Nolde’s Late Work
Nolde executed these exceptional watercolour compositions from 1938 onwards during the period of the National Socialist dictatorship. In 1941 he was comprehensively prohibited from practicing his profession: he could no longer present his works in public or sell them. He already began transposing works from the Unpainted Pictures series into oil as early as 1938. The subsequent room will be devoted to a selection of these paintings. To this day, many of the works based on the Unpainted Pictures have never been presented in public, for example Spring in Autumn (1940). In keeping with the chronology, the last section of the show will focus on the final phase of Nolde’s life from 1946 to 1956. In his late works, expressive depictions of nature and landscape play a decisive role. The exhibition will conclude with Troubled Sea (1948) from the Kunsthalle zu Kiel.