Abendliches Herbstmeer is part of a series of powerful and captivating paintings of the sea and sky which Nolde executed throughout his career. The clouds moving towards the viewer are rendered in different shades of pink, yellow and purple, brilliantly capturing the mood of the autumnal evening, becoming tangible, mirrored in the sea, almost as if to end in the viewer's space. The strong contrasts between the dark blues and greens of the sea with the bright tones of the sky mixing with the smoke of the steamboat in the distance further enhance the powerful forces of nature. The artist was preoccupied with the task of representing the sky and sea as elemental forces, often shown with scudding storm clouds or else bathed in an eerie half-light suggestive of an approaching storm (fig. 1).
Commenting on the artist's fascination with the sea and clouds, Max Sauerlandt notes: 'Nolde understands the sea like no other painter before him. He sees it not from the beach or from the boat but as it exists in itself [...] eternally in motion, ever changing, living out its life in and for itself: a divine, self-consuming, primal force that, in its untrammelled freedom, has existed unchanged since the very first day of creation [...]. He has painted the sea in all its permutations, but above all in stormy agitation, its heavy swell transformed into white breakers as it retreats upon itself, beneath heavy, threatening clouds, behind which the autumnal evening sky bleeds in tones of red and deepest orange' (Max Sauerlandt, Emil Nolde, Munich, 1921, pp. 49-50).
Wherever Nolde settled, whether in Alsen on the Baltic or later in Utenwarf and Seebüll on the North Sea coast, Nolde was rarely out of sight or sound of the sea, which occupied an important place both in his imagination and in his work. His first studio, erected during the summer months spent on the island of Alsen from 1903 onwards, was a wooden hut on the very edge of the beach, so that he could observe the sea closely at any time of the day in all its moods. The artist states: 'Often, I stood at the window looking out at the sea for hours. There was nothing except water and sky. There was complete silence except for the occasional hushed ripple of the waves against the stones of the beach' (quoted in Werner Haftmann, Emil Nolde, Cologne, 1978, p. 70, translated from German).
FIG. 1, Emil Nolde, Meer B, 1930, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London
FIG. 2, The sea by Seebüll on the North Sea Coast
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