My regular art group met this week for a lesson on Emil Nolde in Radiance and Color at Schloss Belvedere. Photographs were not permitted, of course, and the selection of available postcards was dismal, but my friend The Internet turned up a few pieces to help tell this story.
The story begins wherein a troubled artist is “discovered.” In Nolde’s case, Die Brücke, a group of German Expressionists invited him in 1905 to join their art group, which they believed to be “a bridge to the art of the future.” Nolde wasn’t outgoing enough, though, and was eventually uninvited.
Then In 1910 he was expelled from the German Secession art group for criticizing the (Jewish) leader’s rejection of German Expressionism.
In 1913, it seemed as if things were beginning to look up. Nolde was somehow invited along on a South Sea expedition by the German Colonial Office to conduct artistic research on the racial characteristics of the population. He, his wife, and the team traveled through Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong to get to German New Zealand. The art from his travels was heavily influenced by other artists, but his works did not sit well with Hitler’s favored painter, Adolf Ziegler. Upon reaching Java in 1914 the team learned that WWI had begun, so Nolde, his wife, and most likely, a bunch of Japanese paper made their way back to Germany. (Remember this factoid.)
The 1920’s found Nolde “expressing” himself much like Monet and Chagall. Nolde was still not making friends with Ziegler, though; his art was considered, “degenerate.”
In 1921 Nolde channeled his inner Gauguin to paint Lost Paradise.
Despite his German Nationalism and membership in the Danish Nazi party, dozens of Nolde’s pieces, along with works by Kandinsky and Chagall, were confiscated by Nazis and displayed as examples of art that “insults German feeling” or had “Jewish Bolshevist” undertones at the 1937 Munich Degenerate Art Exhibition. A few more of these exhibitions were held throughout Bavaria, where many of the pieces were sold for “pennies per kilo.” Some 300 works from the exhibitions were also stolen by Hildebrand Gurlitt, a German art dealer who declared the pieces to have been burned during WWII bombardment. Many of these pieces, however, were confiscated recently in Gurlitt’s son’s Munich apartment.
Following the exhibition Nolde was treated especially harsh by German officials. Prohibited from purchasing art supplies and banned from painting after 1941, he managed to create dozens of small watercolors (on Japanese paper) that he hid in his home between 1941 and 1945. Nolde feared using acrylics or oils in the event the odor alerted authorities.
This month’s art group was especially interesting to me because of the context within which the art was created. The watercolors were my favorite part of the tour, because the pieces seemed genuinely Nolde, and not Nolde a la Gauguin’s post-impressionism or Chagall’s modernism. But to see them you’ll have to drop in at Schloss Belvedere. Hurry, though, for the exhibit closes early next month.
All photos are with due credit to the Internet.