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Emil Nolde

German, 1867 - 1956

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I would like my work to grow out of the material just as in Nature the plants sprout from the soil appropriate to them.1

In 1902, at the age of thirty-five, Emil Nolde (1867 - 1956), born Emil Hansen, adopted the name of the town on the German-Danish border where he had been born and, after years of working as a wood-carver in furniture factories, began a career as a professional artist. He had begun painting in oil in 1895, but he had used watercolor previously in his meticulous drawings of furniture and in some straightforward landscapes and city views made during the early 1890s. Two years before he started formal art training, about 1895, Nolde exploited the expressive potential of watercolor's fluidity in a vibrant and romantic painting of a vivid red sun rising through clouds above dark fir trees,2 giving prescient evidence of his later emergence as one of the great creative masters of the medium. After studying at private art schools in Munich and Dachau in 1897, in 1900 he went to Paris, where he enrolled in the Académie Julian and studied paintings in the Louvre, concluding that "Paris has given but little to me."3 Nolde's vividly colored paintings, which were shown in Dresden in 1906, were noticed by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, who invited him to show with the Brücke painters.4 It was also in 1906 that Nolde made his first oil paintings of flowers. He claimed no interest in the flowers' names,5 but he had clear favorites, such as the red, ragged-edged blooms of the poppy. Even as a boy, he had made his first paintings with elderberry and beetroot juice because he loved the color red.6

Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Adventures in Modern Art: The Charles K. Williams II Collection, (2009), pp. 224-226.

1. Nolde, quoted and translated in Clifford S. Ackley, Nolde: Watercolors in America (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1995), n.p.
2. For the evolution of Nolde's use of watercolor, see ibid., n.p. The watercolor Sonnenaufgang (Sunrise) (c. 1895) is reproduced in Martin Urban, Emil Nolde: Landscapes; Watercolors and Drawings (New York: Praeger, 1970), p. 10.
3. Quoted in Martin Urban, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, vol. 1, 1895-1914 (London: Sotheby's Publications; New York: Harper & Row, 1987), p. 15.
4. The Brücke artists were Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein, Erich Heckel, Otto Mueller, Schmidt-Rottluff, and Nolde.
5. Martin Urban, "Aquarelle und 'Ungemalte Bilder,'" in Emil Nolde, ed. Rudy Chiappini, exh. cat. (Lugano: Museum für Moderne Kunst der Stadt Lugano, 1994), p. 156.
6. Urban, Catalogue Raisonné, p. 13: "I liked the reddish-purple colour so much."

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