• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1900

    Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

    6 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 66

    Emil Nolde (1867-1956)

    Stilleben N (grosser Tamburan und Chinesenpaar)

    Price Realised  


    Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
    Stilleben N (grosser Tamburan und Chinesenpaar)
    signed 'Emil Nolde' (lower right); signed again and titled 'Emil Nolde "Stilleben" N.' (on the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    30 5/8 x 28 5/8 in. (77.7 x 72.7 cm.)
    Painted in 1915

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Stilleben N (grosser Tamburan und Chinesenpaar) is one of a series of related still life paintings that Nolde executed in 1915 using objects from his trip to the South Seas in 1913. Like most of his Expressionist colleagues, the former Brücke member found inspiration in the art of non-European cultures and often sketched the so-called "primitive" artifacts and cult objects in the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin. The idea of man and nature existing in harmony, untouched by civilization, preoccupied the imagination of many Expressionist artists, who emulated the example of Gauguin's legendary experiences in the South Seas. Nolde and his wife Ada got a chance to experience their own exotic journey when they accepted an invitation to travel with the "Medical and Demographic Expedition to German New Guinea," which the German Colonial Office funded and dispatched in the summer of 1913. The trip, which terminated with the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, took the couple through Russia, Manchuria, Korea, Japan, China, Manila and the Palau Islands en route to their destination. Nolde later remarked in his memoirs: "This one year was so unendingly rich that it seemed to contain ten years of my life" (E. Nolde, Mein Leben, Cologne, 1976, p. 305).

    The porcelains and sculptures that Nolde acquired on this trip provided him with a new repertoire of exotic motifs for his still life compositions, in which he brought together objects from different cultures in various and surprising combinations. In the present work, the painter included three objects that connote exoticism. The "Tamburan" (fig. 1) is a wooden ancestral Malanggan figure from New Ireland, an island in Papua New Guinea that was governed as a German protectorate (called New Mecklenburg) from 1884 to 1914. Nolde likely acquired the porcelain Chinese pair during his extensive excursion into mainland China, and other canvases feature 19th century porcelain groups from Russia. The cushion cover with the flying bird is a piece of weaving that Ada Nolde created after her husband's design. Like the Tamburan, this pillow and similar fabrics can be seen in different still life paintings from this series.

    Nolde purposefully composed novel and provocative juxtapositions in these works that are based on his idea of pure artistic significance rather than historical or cultural contexts. He paired European and non-Western artifacts, various exotic objects, and decorative and high arts. The artist had similarly upheld this strategy when he authored an introduction to a book titled The Artistic Expression of Primitive Peoples in 1911. Although the text was never published, the accompanying pencil sketches of objects in the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin led to the composition of "ethnographic" still-life paintings like the present painting. In a letter of 1913, Nolde commented on the priority of aesthetic criteria, stating: "It seems to me that the best solution is attained when the finest works of art of the most diverse periods and quite different genres are places or hung next to each other, provided that they really go together as regards their color and form the most different works of art in juxtaposition set themselves off from one another and thereby heighten the effect" (quoted in P. Vergo and F. Lunn, Emil Nolde, London, 1996, p.149).

    (fig. 1) Photograph of a Malanggan figure ("Tamburan") from Nolde's collection. Seebüll, courtesy, Nolde-Stiftung. BARCODE 26000466


    Galerie Commeter, Hamburg.
    Otto Homburger, Karlsruhe (circa 1920).
    By descent from the above to the present owner.


    artis. Das aktuelle Kunstmagazin, vol. 40, no. I, 1988, p. 26 (illustrated).
    M. Urban, Emil Nolde: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, London, 1990, vol. II, p. 36, no. 644 (illustrated).


    Frankfurt am Main, Galerie Ludwig Schames, Emil Nolde, April 1917, no. 21.
    Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Emil Nolde, January-February 1918, no. 39.
    Munich, Galerie Neue Kunst Hans Goltz, Emil Nolde, May-June 1918, no. 19.
    Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Emil Nolde, December 1987-February 1988, no. 55.
    Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Emil Nolde, March-June 1994, p. 231, no. 41 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 77).
    Vienna, Kunstforum Bank Austria and Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstifung, Emil Nolde und die Südsee, December 2001-May 2002, p. 365 (illustrated in color).