Emil Nolde, German 1867-1956

After having researched Jon Schuelers’ Sound of Sleat (near Skye, Scotland) landscapes, as suggested by my tutor, I found myself pondering whether my artist friend Elda Abramson had been influenced by his work as there are some intriguing similarities although Elda’s inspiration has come from the West Coast of Ireland rather than West Coast of Scotland. I emailed Elda to ask and she replied:


Emil Nolde

“I don’t know this artist but I like his work! Pleased you see a similarity with my work. Do you know Emil Nolde? His work has been a big influence.”

So here I go down another fascinating research avenue into the German artist Emil Nolde who is known for his paintings and prints of expressionist landscapes, flowers and figures , often using vivid colours. I can certainly see the influence on Elda’s work in all these areas, particularly the use of colour and the gestural line in figures. I will focus on Nolde’s figures as this is most relevant to where I am on the course at the moment. And as I am about to start work on Assignment 4, some inspiration and fresh perspectives will be very welcome.

Being a bit of a colour junkie  I am drawn to the vibrant palette of Nolde’s paintings.

Self portrait, 1912 Striking use of colour, light and shade. The line is mostly very faintly delineated and sharp/strong in just a few key places, for example, the mouth, nose and eyes. This seems to enable the impact of light and tone to be much stronger.

Bonnichsen family, 1915 A family portrait that is both formal (staring eyes, tightly folded arms) and yet very human. The child looks distracted, as children often are. The line is soft, the colour does the work; the florid colouring of the man’s cheeks, the skin contrasts.

Pentecost ( Pfingsten) 1909, Oil
On a religious theme, this painting uses strong line and exaggerated features (the oversized eyebrows and hands). An eerie and surreal image – the figures seem to have candles or flames burning from their heads. Vivid colours but  still a sombre scene.

Candle Dancers, 1912
Wonderful movement with tremendous gestural lines in both the bodies and the striped clothes. Candles again and fiery orange.The dancers are almost alight themselves, moving as if they are flickering with the light.

Papuan Youth, 1914
There is something about the natural and very relaxed postures of these youths that is striking. The recumbent figure seems disinterested whereas the others stare fixedly – at the artist? The crashing wave in the background seems to link the parts of the picture together.


A selection of Nolde’s paintings pasted into my sketchbook












Young Couple (Junges Paar)
(Gallery label text – MOMA) “Nolde, a prolific  and highly innovative printmaker frequently developed his lithographs through several colour variants. His subject here is the tension between the sexes. Different colour variations suggest different emotional readings. These are three from a total of 68 different colour variants of this image.”

Sixty-eight variations! That is extraordinary and the different colours  definitely evoke different readings of the mood. I like the loose lines of the woman’s robe in particular, and the enigmatic background which looks sometimes like a landscape and at other times like a mass of writhing (or dancing?) bodies.

Variation 1 Blue Green Black
Variation 2 Red Black
Variation 3 Green Black

I have pasted more of Nolde’s prints into my sketchbook for the enjoyment of his use of gestural line and often exaggerated features.

nolde-4 nolde-3









What can I learn from Nolde that will contribute to my work?

Consider drawing profiles and the back of the head. They make interesting pictures. Hands and gestures give a sense of animation, something happening – movement, emotion, debate.

Have a bit of fun with backgrounds… leave something for the viewer to interpret. It is not necessary to tell them everything, some ambiguity and room for different readings of what is happening can make a picture more interesting.

Simple lines can communicate strong messages. Resist the temptation to over do things! Easier said than achieved in my case…

Many of Nolde’s print use strong backgrounds behind very lightly delineated figures. It is effective and makes good use of negative space.

Biographical information

German painter, watercolourist and printmaker. He was one of the strongest and most independent of the German Expressionists. Nolde belonged to the Dresden-based group known as Die Brücke from 1906 to 1907. Primarily a colourist, he is best known for his paintings in oil, his watercolours and his graphic work. His art was deeply influenced by the stark natural beauty of his north German homeland, and alongside numerous landscapes, seascapes and flower paintings, Nolde also produced works with religious and imaginary subjects. (MOMA)

German painter in oils and watercolour of landscapesstill life and figure compositionslithographeretcher and wood-engraver. Born near Nolde, a village in North Schleswig. Changed his name from Hansen to Nolde in 1902. Worked as wood carver in several furniture factories, studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in Karlsruhe 1888-9 and began to sketch landscapes and portraits in his spare time. Taught drawing at the Museum of Industrial Arts in St Gall, Switzerland, 1892-7. First oil paintings1896. Decided to devote himself to painting and studied at Friedrich Fehr’s private school in Munich 1898-9 and with Adolf Holzel in Dachau 1899; also spent part of 1899-1900 in Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian. In the following years, lived mainly in Berlin and on the island of Alsen. Began to paint Impressionistic landscapes and interiors, but with brilliant colours and vehement brushstrokes, and had his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Ernst Arnold, Dresden, in 1905. Joined the Brücke group 1906-7, but left to work independently. Developed an Expressionist style 1909-10, with vivid colours and an emotional, visionary intensity; painted a number of religious compositions. Became interested in primitive art and accompanied an official expedition to the South Seas 1913-14. After 1916 spent the summers first at Utenwarf near Ruttebüll, then from 1926 at Seebüll; spent the winters up to 1941 in Berlin. Member of the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts in 1931. Published Das eigene Leben 1931 and Jahre der Kampfe 1934. Declared a ‘degenerate‘ artist by the Nazis, who in 1937 removed all his works from German museums and in 1941 forbade him to paint, though he continued to make watercolours at Seebüll in secret. Died at Seebüll. (Tate)


Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/emil-nolde-1710
MOMA: http://www.moma.org/collection_ge/artist.php?artist_id=4327
Wikiart: wikiart.org
Nolde Stifftung  Seebüll: http://www.nolde-stiftung.de/en/2/emil-nolde-a-biographical-overview.html




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