Emil Nolde: Artist Portrait

Emil Nolde

Born 1867. Died 1956.
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Emil Nolde Biography

Born as Emil Hansen in Nolde, Denmark, in 1867 to peasant farmers, Nolde recognized early on that his ambitions lay outside of agriculture. His first creative experiences were during a four-year apprenticeship beginning in 1884, where he learned woodcarving and furniture design, ultimately giving him the practical skills to support himself. He advanced his artistic skills by attending night classes at the Karlsruhe School of Applied Arts between 1889 and 1890, ultimately gaining a position as a drawing instructor in St. Gallen, Switzerland, from 1892 to 1898.

In 1899, Nolde visited Paris where he enrolled at the Académie Julian, and became well acquainted with a number of Impressionist artists, as well as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. During the early 1900s he began associating with more avant-garde artistic circles and his endeavors in fine art truly began to mature. Beginning around 1902, he began living on the island of Alsen, Denmark, though he continued to spend winters in Berlin, all the while continuing to hone his artistic practice. He first joined the German Expressionist group Die Brücke in 1906, but left in 1907; nevertheless the influence of his time in the group had a lasting stylistic and iconographic impact on his artistic production — by 1909, religious iconography as well as motifs of dance and movement were becoming more pronounced in his work. He later joined the Berlin Secession group, which favored the Post-Impressionistic mode over the state-supported aesthetics of the Association of Berlin Artists. Ultimately, he and several other artists were edged out of the group, leading him to join the now famous and renowned Der Blaue Reiter group, founded by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc.

Known to have shown an early interest in in Primitivism, inspired by his introduction to the work of Gauguin, and having an affinity for traditionally Teutonic themes, as well as an interest in the studies of racial features, it is unsurprising that Nolde expressed Nazi sympathies as early as the 1920s. Despite his political support of the Nazi party, his work still did not adhere to the party’s strict artistic code, and he was ultimately featured in the notorious 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition. By 1941, he was prohibited by the Nazis from purchasing canvas and paint; he circumvented this ruling by continuing to paint in watercolor on paper, producing mostly modest landscapes and flower studies, which account for the majority of his late work until his death in 1956 at his home in Seebüll, in Northern Germany.

Following Nolde’s death, his home in Seebüll was ultimately made into a museum of the artist’s work, and his work has come to be housed as well in a number of the world’s leading public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brüke Museum, Berlin; and the Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, Oslo.

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