Sunday, 24 July 2016


“Religion doesn’t make people bigots. People are bigots and they use religion to justify their ideology.” - Reza Aslan

Emil Nolde, original name Emil Hansen (born Aug. 7, 1867, Nolde, near Bocholt, Ger.—died April 15, 1956, Seebüll, near Niebüll, W.Ger.) was a German Expressionist painter, printmaker, and watercolourist known for his violent religious works and his foreboding landscapes. Born of a peasant family, the youthful Nolde made his living as a wood-carver. He was able to study art formally only when some of his early works were reproduced and sold as postcards. In Paris, Nolde began to paint works that bear a superficial affinity to Impressionistic painting. In 1906 he was invited to join Die Brücke, an association of Dresden-based Expressionist artists who admired his “storm of colour.” But Nolde, a solitary and intuitive painter, dissociated himself from that tightly knit group after a year and a half.

Fervently religious and racked by a sense of sin, Nolde created such works as “Dance Around the Golden Calf” (1910) and “In the Port of Alexandria” from the series depicting “The Legend of St. Maria Aegyptica” (1912), in which the erotic frenzy of the figures and the demonic, mask-like faces are rendered with deliberately crude draughtsmanship and dissonant colours. In the “Doubting Thomas” from the nine-part polyptych “The Life ofChrist” (1911–12), the relief of Nolde’s own religious doubts may be seen in the quiet awe of St. Thomas as he is confronted with Jesus’ wounds.

During 1913 and 1914 Nolde was a member of an ethnological expedition that reached the East Indies. There he was impressed with the power of unsophisticated belief, as is evident in his lithograph “Dancer” (1913). Back in Europe, Nolde led an increasingly reclusive life on the Baltic coast of Germany. His almost mystical affinity for the brooding terrain led to such works as his “Marsh Landscape” (1916), in which the low horizon, dominated by dark clouds, creates a majestic sense of space.

Landscapes done after 1916 were generally of a cooler tonality than his early works. But his masterful realisations of flowers retain the brilliant colours of his earlier works. He was a prolific graphic artist especially noted for the stark black-and-white effect that he employed in crudely incised woodcuts. Nolde was an early advocate of Germany’s National Socialist Party, but, when the Nazis came to power, they declared his work “decadent” and forbade him to paint. After World War II he resumed painting but often merely reworked older themes. His last “Self-portrait” (1947) retains his vigorous brushwork but reveals the disillusioned withdrawal of the artist in his 80th year.

The painting above is the “Familienbild” (Family Portrait) of 1947. A tightly knit composition reflects the theme of the work and the colours are bright and bold, but still associated with each member of the group: The child bright and golden full of sunny future hopes. The father in olives, oranges and browns, has an aura of peace, despite that dark brooding look. The mother multi-coloured but the striking blue in face and clothing perhaps symbolic of depth and stability, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith and truth.


  1. I have only inter-war paintings by Nolde and didn't like them... at all. Your painting of Familienbild is just post-WW2 and is altogether more sympathetic. In fact he might have re-modelled himself on von Jawlensky, Kirchner or Pechstein.

    thanks for the link

  2. Religion does make people bigots. The examples are too deeply historical and too sadly contemporary to need mention.

  3. And by the way, the Nolde image is © Renate und Friedrich Johenning Stiftung