Emil Nolde – Part II:Flowers

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Today is Palm Sunday, the day that the crowds greeted Jesus with Palm leaves in Jerusalem (and they crucified him a few days later). For me it is a day full of flowers, even more so than the 1st of May, as Easter has this special atmosphere and feeling about it. It is therefore no surprise that as I continue with my post about Emil Nolde, the great German painter of the first half of the 20th century, the theme of this post is flowers. Nolde loved flowers, as you will see in the pictures that follow. I have arranged the pictures in chronological order, so that changes in style and technique can be identified in an easier way, if this is of interest to you. The commentary I have used is from the source of the picture, if available. 

Red Flowers (1906)
Red Flowers (1906)

Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain

Violette Blumen
Violette Blumen (1907)

All his life Nolde was moved by the beauty of plants and flowers. In his later years in the grounds of his houses at Utenwarf and in Seebüll, Nolde created elaborate gardens filled with a wide range of exotic flowers from all around the globe.

Painted in 1907, Violette Blumen is one of the first series of flower paintings that Nolde painted during his summer visits to the Baltic island of Alsen in 1906, 1907 and 1908. Moving on from his purely impressionistic beginnings, the stark intensity of colour in a painting such as Violette Blumen reveals Nolde consciously using colour to stimulate and evoke an emotional response in the viewer.

Much of the inspiration for this ‘humanizing’ of nature came not just from Nolde’s own personal experience but also from the example set for him by Vincent Van Gogh. Like Van Gogh, Nolde always aimed to work swiftly and impulsively over the surface of the picture in order to give energy and life to his paintings and heighten their sense of emotional intensity. Nolde, like many of his contemporaries, was greatly suspicious of the rational element in art and elevated instinct above reason as being the most important source of creativity. ‘In art I fight for unconscious creation’, he wrote to his friend Hans Fehr, reiterating elsewhere that ‘the quicker a painting is done, the better it is…When inspiration falters, even for a moment, barren reason leaps to the rescue, and then the work is ruined. If only I could catch it, I would pin reason against the wall and give it a good hiding.’ (Emil Nodle cited in Max Sauerlandt ed., Emil Nolde Briefe aus den Jahren 1894-1926 Hamburg, 1967, p. 31)

On the island of Alsen it was the well-kept fisherman’s cottages there, which had ‘small, rich, beautifully kept gardens, surrounded by beech hedges and always abounding in flowers,’ that inspired many of his finest and most adventurous paintings. For Nolde, flowers were a vivid example of the eternal cycle of birth, life and death in Nature. As a passage in his autobiography reveals, flowers were for him a beautiful product of creation and could be likened to a work of art in the sense that their life cycle was essentially the same. Both, he argued, were the products of natural forces and thereby subject to the same laws of creation and inevitable decay, ‘shooting up, blooming, radiating, glowing, gladdening, drooping, wilting, and ultimately thrown away and dying. Our human destinies are by no means always so logical or so beautiful’ (Emil Nolde. Jahre de Kämpfe 1902-1914, Berlin, 1934, p.228.).

Nolde’s flower paintings communicate the artist’s pantheist belief in nature and his love of all aspects of creation. In this respect they relate closely to his darker and more complex religious paintings, which Nolde insisted, demanded ‘a particular attitude of mind’ from the viewer.

Depicting the radiant blooming colour of a variety of different flowers sprouting from the green undergrowth and seeming to scream the richness and vitality of their from the surface of the picture, Violette Blumen is an intense and heavily textured work that boldly asserts Nolde’s love of and atavistic faith in the beneficial power of the garden.

In its stark contrast of rich reds and deep purples set against their chromatic opposites of pale greens and light yellows, this painting radiates with a full colour intensity. It is an intensity for which Nolde, in these early years received some criticism from people complaining that such paintings falsely exaggerated the colours of nature. Such criticism Nolde strongly rebuked as he discussed with Hans Fehr at this time. ‘The beholder’, he told his friend, ‘will say about my flower paintings that the colours are exaggerated. That is not true. I once positioned my canvases amidst the flowers themselves and saw immediately how much they paled compared to nature. We have no idea how jaded our eyes have become’ (Emil Nolde in conversation with Hans Fehr in 1908, cited in Hans Fehr, op cit, p. 56). 

Source: Christie’s, Department of Impressionist and Modern Art

Violas (1908)
Violas (1908)

 

Painted in 1908 and acquired by Hans Fehr in 1910, Blaue Stiefmütterchen (Violas) is one of several early flower paintings made by Nolde in which, working within the legacy of Vincent Van Gogh, the artist deliberately sought to echo and mimic the procreative colour and bloom of nature through the texture, brushstroke and creativity of his own painting.

For Nolde, his lifelong love of flowers was deeply rooted with his profound sense of ‘Heimat’ that began in his mother’s garden in the village of Nolde when Emil was a child. There, Nolde later recalled, ‘I often walked with her in the garden… and so I could not help but watch all the flowers as they grew, blossomed and shone forth. There was a bed of noble red roses where I would sometimes cut back the wild, thorny shoots for her. All the flowers bloomed for her pleasure and for mine, and the sun shone out over the garden.’ (Emil Nolde Das eigene Leben (1867-1902), Cologne, 1994, p. 120).

 

In this witnessing of the natural life-cycle of flowers rooted to and later blooming and dying in their own native soil Nolde recognised a clear metaphor for the way he felt about his own art and life. ‘In painting I always hoped that through me, as the painter, the colours would take effect on the canvas as logically as nature creates her configurations, as ore and crystals form, as moss and algae grow, as flowers must unfold and bloom under the rays of the sun’ (Emil Nolde, Jahre der Kämpfe 1902-1914, Berlin, 1934, p. 107). 

Source: Christie’s, Department of Impressionist and Modern Art

Blaue Iris I, 1915
Blaue Iris I, 1915

 

 

Basel Kunstmuseum, Switzerland

 

Flowers, watercolour
Flowers, watercolour

Like the sea, flowers were an abiding source of inspiration and consolation for Emil Nolde, a cause for joy in periods of difficulty. Nolde’s wife Ada shared his love of flowers and together they planted gardens with tulips, dahlias, poppies, irises, bluebells, and sunflowers at their homes in Alsen, Unterward, and Seebüll. Of their small garden in Alsen, Nolde wrote, “I loved the glowing colors of the flowers, the purity of their colors.” After he and Ada moved to Unterward in 1916, Nolde used the absorbent Japan paper that he had discovered in Berlin about 1910 and worked “wet in wet.” Nolde had ambitions to be a figure painter, specifically to paint religious subjects. But he took with him from flower painting that use of broad planes of color for emotional impact.

Source: St Louis Art Museum , USA

 

Still Life, Tulips, about 1930
Still Life, Tulips, about 1930

 

 

North Carolina Museum of Art

Red, blue and yellow tulips with Bust (1930-35), watercolour
Red, blue and yellow tulips with Bust (1930-35), watercolour

 

Galerie Nehen, Essen, Germany

Ripe sunflowers (1932)
Ripe sunflowers (1932)

Detroit, Institute of Arts, USA

Glowing Sunflowers (1936)
Glowing Sunflowers (1936)

Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain

 

Sunflowers in the Windstorm (1943)
Sunflowers in the Windstorm (1943)

Sunflowers in the Windstorm was painted while World War II raged across much of the globe. At the time he created this work, German artist Emil Nolde was forbidden by the Nazi government to paint. The Nazis, who preferred idealized art that promoted party policies, detested Nolde’s emotionally expressive style of painting, which they labeled “degenerate.” In defiance of the order, Nolde painted in secret anyway. Most often he painted watercolors; only on rare occasions did he dare to paint in oils, for fear that the smell of the pigments might betray him. Sunflowers in the Windstorm is one of just five oil paintings he created in 1943. Its storm battered flowers, which bend but do not break, may be read as symbols of the human spirit in the toughest of times.

Source: Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, USA

 

Red Poppy Seed and Coneflower, watercolor on paper, ca 1945
Red Poppy Seed and Coneflower, watercolor on paper, ca 1945

Galerie Ludorff, Duesseldorf, Germany

6 COMMENTS

  1. Υπέροχα λουλούδια της άνιξης καλέ μου, προμηνύματα της Ανάστασης. Ομως γιατι γράφεις στα αγγλικά εσχάτως; Αναρρωτιέμαι!

    • @justine: as it happens, I have no greek fonts on this notebook, so i respond in english! tank you justine, flowers are everything in spring, and the use of english is due to the material quoted which is in english!

      @despinarion: thank you so much for the beautiful aura you are bringing to the blog, all the best!

      @orfia: i am glad you like the sunflowers, they are my favourites!

      @tutii frutti: i will send you my Easter wishes when i return to athens!

  2. Καλημερα, Χρονια πολλα και να ειναι οχι μονο αυτη η Κυριακη αλλα ολες σου οι μερες ευωδιαστες και ομορφες σαν τα λουλουδια που εφερες σημερα. Η σημερινη σου αναρτηση ξεχωριζει για την ευαισθησια της. Οπως και να τα ειδε τα λουλουδια ο Νολτε ειτε ιμπρεσιοννιστικα στην αρχη ειτε πιο ρεαλιστικα προς το τελος το αποτελεσμα ειναι μαγικο. Ευχαριστουμε που τα μοιραστηκες μαζι μας. Σε ασπαζομαι.

  3. Υπεροχα χρωματα ειδικα στα ηλιοτροπια του και στις τουλιπες του. Καλη σας νυχτα και καλη Μεγαλη Εβδομαδα σας ευχομαι.

  4. Τι όμορφα!!!
    Λατρεύω αυτό το “άπιαστο” και δύσκολο υλικό, την ακουαρέλλα. Και τα πολύ αραιωμένα λάδια που έχουν ένα παρόμοιο αποτέλεσμα.
    Καλό πάσχα να περάσεις. με χρώματα κι αρώματα.

    • ευχαριστω πολυ για τις ευχες νταρια, και αναταποδιδω: καλο πασχα και καλη ανασταση!

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