Private Collection, Germany (acquired in the mid-1990s. Sold: Christie's, London, 23rd June 2009, lot 12)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Martin Urban, Emil Nolde. Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, London, 1990, vol. II, no. 1338, illustrated p. 593
Bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun, this depiction of a poppy field is a remarkable example of Nolde’s flower paintings. An outburst of vivid colours, Mohn not only celebrates the richness of nature, it also demonstrates the artist’s modernist approach to painting. Through his dynamic and spontaneous brushstrokes, Nolde created a surface texture that appears to suggest movement and air in the painting, and to recreate the lively, shimmering effect of flowers suffused in warm evening sunlight.
It was in his flower paintings, such as the present work, that Nolde sought to capture the drama of untamed nature, using a Fauve-like palette and applying paint to the entire surface in quick, expressive brushstrokes. In particular poppies, with their saturated red tonality, fascinated Nolde from the early days of his career. Preferring to paint close-ups of flowers, rather than wide panoramic views, in the present oil the artist focused on a bunch of poppies in full bloom, cropping out of his composition all the other wild flowers that grew in abundance around his house at Seebüll.
Both his intensive preoccupation with the subject of flowers and his emphasis on colour reflect Nolde’s continuing interest in the art of Van Gogh, which he encountered in exhibitions on the Dutch artist during the 1920s and early 1930s. The fervent dedication to expression and symbolic use of colour exhibited in Van Gogh’s works matched Nolde’s own. He wrote: ‘I loved the music of colours… Yellow can depict happiness and also pain. Red can mean fire, blood or roses, blue can mean silver, the sky or a storm, each colour has a soul of its own’ (quoted in Martin Urban, Emil Nolde Landscapes, New York, 1969, p. 16).
The bright colours, bold brushstrokes and magnificent texture of the present work undoubtedly demonstrate a reference to the Dutch post-Impressionist master, as well as evidencing Nolde’s emotional admiration of the beauties of nature. As the artist himself expressed it: ‘The blossoming colours of the flowers and the purity of those colours – I loved them. I loved the flowers and their fate: shooting up, blooming, radiating, glowing gladdening, bending, wilting, throwing away and dying’ (Nolde, quoted in Peter Selz, Emil Nolde (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1963, p. 49).
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