- Emil Nolde
SCHWÜLE TREIBENDE WOLKEN (DRIFTING HEAVY-WEATHER CLOUDS)
- signed Emil Nolde (lower right) and dated 1927 (lower left)
- oil on panel
Emil Nolde, Seebüll & Berlin (lost during the years of 1945-46)
Sale: Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett, Stuttgart, 20th & 21st May 1960, lot 438
Olga Ella Monheim, Aachen (probably purchased at the above sale)
Galerie Grosshennig, Dusseldorf (by 1978)
Henri Nannen, Hamburg (by 1979)
Galerie Thomas, Munich (by 1982)
Galerie Ludorff, Dusseldorf
Acquired from the above by the present owners on 11th February 1987
Berlin, Ferdinand Möller, Emil Nolde, 1930, no. 15
Munich, Glaspalast, Deutsche Kunstausstellung, 1930, no. 1735
Aachen, Suermondt-Museum, Deutsche Kunst aus Privatbesitz, 1964, no. 116, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Munich, Galerie Thomas, Emil Nolde, 1981, no. 72, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Sindelfingen, Kunstsaal, Deutsche Expressionisten, 1982
Berlin, Galerie Pels-Leusden, Zeitspiegel I, 1986, no. 132, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Emil Nolde, 1995-96, no. 1047, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Weltkunst, vol. 46, no. 9, Munich, 1976, p. 799
Weltkunst, vol. 46, no. 22, Munich, 1976, illustrated in colour p. 2201
Martin Urban, Emil Nolde, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, 1915-1951, London, 1990, vol. II, no. 1047, illustrated p. 359
Schwüle treibende Wolken, painted in 1927, is part of a series of powerful and captivating paintings of the sky and sea which Nolde executed throughout his career. The clouds moving towards the viewer, are rendered in different shades of blue and purple. The thick impasto, brilliantly captures the powerful movement of the clouds in the sky, becoming tangible, almost as if to penedrate the viewer's space. The strong contrasts between the dark blue and purple tones further enhance the powerful nature of the sky whilst at the same time adding a strong texture. 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.
Having grown up and spent much of his life in the German province of Schleswig-Holstein, Nolde was rarely out of sight of nature, 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 sky and sea closely and at any time of the day in all its moods. Nolde 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). He himself evidently viewed his relationship with the sky in something approaching mystical terms. There were also his experiences of the wild, untamed stormy sea clouds. Recalling a stormy crossing of the Kattegat during which, standing on the open deck, he leaned far out over the rail of the boat to experience the power and strength of the sea, he notes: 'I stood gripping the rail, gazing and wondering as the waves and the ship tossed me up and down. For years afterwards, that day remained so vividly in my mind that I incorporated it into my sea paintings with their wild, mountainous green waves and only at the topmost edge a silver of sulphurous sky' (quoted in Emil Nolde (exhibition catalogue), The Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1996, p. 132).
Commenting on the artist's fascination with the sea and clouds, Max Sauerlandt noted: '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, devoid of any reference to man, 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).
In Schwüle treibende Wolken, Nolde brilliantly depicts a close detail of the seemingly never-ending stretches of the sky. Artist and viewer become part of the element whereby the sky engulfs from every possible angle. It is devoid of any human form of life, illustrating the overpowering nature of the sky. Despite the obvious starting point in perceived reality - the close attention paid, for example, to the effects of light reflections on the surface of the water - Schwüle treibende Wolken is something more than merely a literal depiction. The artist reflects his desire to provide not just a representation of nature, but to express his emotional response to it, to create a visual equivalent of a physical experience. The artist remarked: 'I think it is most important to give freedom to art and one should not force art into a corset. One should be guided by nature whilst lending a free spirit to one's fantasy and experience. Whatever is depicted, be it truth, fantasy or poetry, the best paintings are the ones which seem true, natural, organic and alive' (quoted in Emil Nolde (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthalle Köln, Cologne, 1973, p. 38, translated from German). Nolde portrays his landscapes with an undisguised symbolic significance, exploiting clouds and sky as metaphors for the awesome power of nature.