Red Poppies (Roter Mohn)

Emil Nolde, German, 1867 - 1956

c. 1920

Watercolor on Japanese tissue

Sheet: 13 1/2 x 18 7/8 inches (34.3 x 47.9 cm)

Research inconclusive. Copyright may apply.

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of C. K. Williams, II, 2006

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Additional information:
  • PublicationAdventures in Modern Art: The Charles K. Williams II Collection

    It was not until about 1918-20 that Emil Nolde (1867 - 1956) started to paint flowers in watercolor,1 which he continued in many varied compositions until the last years of his life. Exact dating of the flower paintings has confounded scholars, and, in fact, Nolde encouraged the confusion, stating: "To the annoyance of art historians I shall destroy all lists that give information about the dates of my pictures."2 Traditionally dated about 1920, Red Poppies is a vivid example of Nolde's many flower watercolors on Japanese paper. He is known to have had a stock of absorbent Japanese papers of various weights, which allowed him to experiment with different effects of color washes.3 Generally, he applied colors rapidly to moistened paper, wet in wet, so that they literally stained the paper like a textile. Sometimes, after the colors dried, he painted over an area again to strengthen a detail, or he painted on the reverse side of the paper, allowing the color to bleed through to the front.4 During the creation of watercolors like Red Poppies, the artist must have enjoyed watching the flowers grow and expand within the moistened paper as he touched it with color. Here, some blossoms boldly move to the edges of the paper and appear to expand beyond them; fluid washes of gray hover like clouds around the pink and red blooms. Remarkably, light appears to emanate from within the flowers rather than striking them from the outside. Nolde often, as here, signed his watercolors on both the front and the back; indeed, the staining of the colors through the paper creates a mirror image of the front on the reverse--a second composition to which he applied his signature. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Adventures in Modern Art: The Charles K. Williams II Collection, (2009), pp. 224-226.

    1. 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.
    2. Quoted in Achim Moeller, Private Views (New York: Achim Moeller Fine Art, 1990), no. 33.
    3. Manfred Reuther, "When My Tied Hands Were Freed," in Emil Nolde: Unpainted Pictures; Watercolours, 1938-1945, from the Collection of the Nolde- Stiftung Seebüll, ed. Tilman Osterwold and Thomas Knubben (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2000), p. 10.
    4. Martin Urban, Emil Nolde: Landscapes; Watercolours and Drawings (London: Pall Mall Press, 1970), p. 32.