“Perhaps the greatest modern watercolourist.” Frank Whitford, art critic.
Emil Hansen was born in Nolde, Schleswig, later taking the name of his birthplace when he was married in 1902. He worked initially as a cabinet maker and taught ornamental drawing from 1892 to 1897 at the School of Industrial Design at St. Gall in Switzerland. Between 1898 and 1899 Hansen studied painting in Munich before moving to Paris to study at the Académie Julian where he first saw the work of the Impressionists.
He worked from a studio in Berlin and also on the island of Alsen in the North Sea. Nolde then spent several months in Dresden working as part of the Die Brücke group which he joined in 1905. Although he remained at a distance from many of his contemporaries, one of the leading figures of the movement, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, did teach Nolde woodcut before he resigned in 1907. He went on to produce a
number of religious paintings such as ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘Pentecost’ both in 1909. They were marked by their bright colours and distorted images, produced with thick paint, conveying very strong emotions. At the same time he also produced some vivid depictions of Berlin nightlife.
In 1912, having been expelled from the Neue Sezession, Nolde travelled to New Guinea in 1913 where he developed an interest in primitive art leading to works such as ‘Exotic Figures’. From 1915 onwards he produced a vast number of landscape paintings as well as flower depictions. A retrospective of his work was held in 1927 and showed throughout Germany. He had been a member of the Nazi Party since 1920 yet he was declared a degenerate artist in 1941. He continued to produce small watercolours in secret, however, which came to be known as the ‘Unpainted Pictures’. After the war he reworked these into larger oil paintings. Nolde’s large body of work, much of which is at the Nolde Foundation in Seebüll, can be characterised by his strong use of colour to convey very powerful emotions. He is regarded as one of the most important painters working in Expressionism.