Lot 7
  • 7

Emil Nolde

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Emil Nolde
  • Südseeinsel (South Sea Island)
  • signed Emil Nolde (lower right); signed Emil Nolde and titled on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
  • 87 by 100.5cm.
  • 34 1/4 by 39 1/2 in.


Heinrich Bamberger, Frankfurt (acquired by 1930)

Friedl Bamberger (by descent from the above)

Thence by descent to the present owner


Frankfurt, Kunstsalon Ludwig Schames, Emil Nolde. Gemälde, 1915, no. 60

Dresden, Galerie Arnold, Emil Nolde. Gemälde, 1916

Frankfurt, Kunstsalon Ludwig Schames, Nolde. Gemälde, Aquarelle, Druckgraphik, 1917, no. 18

Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Emil Nolde. Gemälde, Aquarelle, Druckgraphik, 1918, no. 38

Munich, Galerie Neue Kunst Hans Goltz, Emil Nolde, 1918, no. 18

Wiesbaden, Nassauischer Kunstverein, Emil Nolde, 1919, no. 21

Frankfurt, Kunstsalon Ludwig Schames, Emil Nolde, 1920, no. 33


The Artist's Handlist, 1910, C, no. 561

The Artist's Handlist, 1930, listed as '1915 Südseeinsel' (as owned by Heinrich Bamberger)

Martin Urban, Emil Nolde. Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, London, 1990, vol. II, no. 649, illustrated p. 41



The canvas is unlined. There is no evidence of retouching visible under ultra-violet light. Apart from some small areas of stable craquelure, this work is in very good original condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although slightly richer and more vibrant in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Südseeinsel, painted in 1915, epitomises Nolde’s fascination with colour, and is a captivating vision of the South Seas. Attracted by the wilderness and vitality of the exotic, Nolde accepted an offer to travel to New Guinea as part of a scientific expedition organised by the German Colonial Office. Two physicians, a nurse, the artist and his wife Ada, left Berlin in October 1913. Traveling by rail across Russia to Manchuria they then sailed on to Korea and Japan before crossing the China Sea and travelling along the coast of mainland China before heading south to Manila, the Palau Islands and onto German New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago Islands. On this journey he produced only a few paintings, but executed several hundred watercolours and drawings which sought to capture the people and landscapes of the extraordinary places he visited. On his return to Berlin he continued to produce pictures inspired by his journeys, such as the present work, which are characterised by a provocative palette of reds, blacks, and greens placed in stark contrast in thickly impastoed paint (figs. 1 & 2).

Since 1910 Nolde had been engaged in creating a body of highly challenging work, boldly expressionistic and brilliantly hued, which drew its inspiration from the nightlife of Berlin. These works revelled in a violent collision of urban life and raw primitive characterisation. His evenings where taken up by running the gamut of Berlin’s nocturnal entertainments; evenings in which ‘we went to masked balls, into cabarets, to the ice rink. And then we went to the public bars where, as pale as powder and smelling of dead bodies, sat impotent princes of the gutter and frantic women of the demi-monde in their elegant, daring clothes, wearing them like queens’ (E. Nolde, Jahre der Kämpfe, Cologne, 1985, pp. 147, translated from German). These nightly excursions were paralleled during the daytime by his exploration of the cultural artefacts in the Museum für Völkerkunde. As Peter Selz notes, Nolde’s fascination with people of every culture impelled him to seek first-hand experience of the exotic: ‘Over the years Nolde’s interest in primitive art had constantly grown more intense. He even hoped to publish a book on the art of indigenous peoples, based on his studies in the ethnological museums. He saw in this art, with its abstract and rhythmic sense of ornament and colour and its mythic power, an affirmation of his own anti-classical art. […] His own ‘blood and soil’ mystique made him an early proponent of the indigenous art of all peoples. He was delighted, therefore, to be asked by the German Colonial Ministry to participate as a pictorial reporter to investigate standards of health in German New Guinea’ (P. Selz, Emil Nolde (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, p. 33).

Executed upon his return to Europe in 1915, the present work evokes the otherworldliness of the South Seas, and reflects Nolde’s desire to provide not just a depiction of nature, but to express his emotional response to it, to create a visual equivalent of a physical experience. As Max Sauerlandt observed: ‘Nolde understands the sea like no other painter before him. He sees it not from the beach or from a boat but as it exists as 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 untrammeled 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’ (M. Sauerlandt, Emil Nolde, Munich, 1921, pp. 49-50).