Emil Nolde

September 30, 2008By Heidi EllisonArchive

Storms of Color

“La Mise au Tombeau” (1915). © Nolde Stiftung-Seebüll

This exhibition, which promises to be one of the fall season’s blockbusters, will be a delightful eye opener for anyone who is not familiar with the work of Emil Nolde (1867-1956).

Prepare to be amazed by color combinations you have never seen before (the colors positively burn in “Soleil des Tropiques and “Floraison des Crocus,” both dating from 1914), by dazzling light effects (as in “Clair de Lune,” 1903), and by Nolde’s wide-ranging abilities – from accomplished portraits (the Van Gogh-influenced self-portrait of 1917 and “Fils de Paysan, 1915) to wildly cartoonish figures (“The Life of Christ,” 1911-12), from lovely Post-Impressionist domestic scenes (“Printemps dans la Chambre,” 1904) to frightening Expressionist excesses (“Si Vous Redevenez comme des Enfants,” 1929) and everything in between. High drama, often touched by the macabre, reigns supreme in most of Nolde’s work.

The exhibition, which presents an overview of Nolde’s work through 90 paintings and numerous works on paper, is arranged by theme – “The Enchanted Mountain,” “The Bible and Myths,” “The Sea,” “Berlin Nights,” etc. – rather than chronologically, making it is difficult to trace the artist’s development over time.

Make sure you take a close look at the marvelous works on paper. Although many of Nolde’s figures are painted in a child-like, almost monstrous style (nevertheless highly communicative, as in “Christ et la Pecheresse,” 1921, whose subjects are grotesque yet communicate a palpable feeling of forgiveness and empathy), the drawings, watercolors and prints show that he was also an accomplished draftsman. The ink drawings in the “Berlin Nights” section are stunning, especially one of a large man looming over a woman sitting rod-straight in a chair, the entire scene made comprehensible with just a few bold strokes, and another of a dancing couple, all arms and legs.

The color combinations may sometimes be over the top, but they are sometimes positively gorgeous, as in “Blue Sky and Sunflowers” (1928), with its turquoise-blue sky and realistically colored flowers.

Nolde cultivated an image as an anti-intellectual recluse, probably to protect his privacy. Even though he joined the National Socialist Party, his work was included in the 1937 exhibition of “degenerate” art and banned by the Nazis. Over a thousand of his works were confiscated from German museums and many were burned. Forbidden to work in 1941, the 70-year-old Nolde secretly painted some 1,300 small watercolors, which he called “unpainted pictures,” some of which are included in this show.

Nolde’s “storms of color” appealed to the artists of the Die Brücke group of Expressionists, with which he was associated for a year and a half before he broke with them. He was also associated with the Secession movement for a short time.

Some may love this show and some may hate it, but it won’t leave anyone indifferent. Don’t miss it.

Heidi Ellison

Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais: 3, avenue du Général Eisenhower, 75008 Paris. Métro: Champs-Elysées Clemenceau. Tel.: 01 44 13 17 17. Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (until 6 p.m. on Dec. 24 and Jan. 31), Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission: €10. Through January 19, 2009. www.rmn.fr

© 2009 Paris Update

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