Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
Emil Nolde (1867-1956)


Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
signed 'Nolde.' (lower right)
watercolor on Japan paper
14 1/8 x 18 in. (36 x 45.8 cm.)
painted circa 1930-1938
Private collection, Essen (1960s); sale, Christie's, London, 28 June 1988, lot 347.
Galerie Neher, Essen.
Private collection, Europe (acquired from the above, November 1988); sale, Sotheby's, London, 5 February 2008, lot 17.
Jan Krugier, acquired at the above sale.

Lot Essay

Dr. Martin Urban from the Nolde Stiftung, Seebüll, has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Watercolor played a central role in Nolde's artistic practice from 1910 until his death in 1956. Working on highly absorbent paper that he dampened before beginning to paint, Nolde created images of unmatched beauty and poetry; the vibrant colors flow into one another and saturate the page in fluid, transparent pools. Two of the pre-eminent subjects in Nolde's watercolor oeuvre are flowers and the sea, both of which gave rise to extravagant, emotive displays of color. Nolde explained, "The Painter's eye sees and sees, incessantly perceiving, comparing, arranging, and shaping, yet also sleeping and dreaming of images that are often more beautiful than anything it sees" (quoted in M. Urban, Emil Nolde: Landscapes, New York, 1970, p. 28).

In the present work, the lofty, crepuscular clouds reflected in the wintery mountain lake convey the quintessence of permanence and eternity, showing nature as an indomitable force of unfettered energy. Werner Haftmann has written, "Clouds were the seat of the gods and of fear, the eternally changing and yet imperishable menace or solace of heavenly religion, the form and vehicle of transcendent light, the immemorial fate of the earth" (Emil Nolde, New York, 1959, p. 37).
Nolde began to work with watercolor in 1892, while teaching commercial drawing at St. Gallen in Switzerland. His watercolor production from this early period consists almost entirely of accurately drawn, topographically correct landscape views. Only one example stands apart from the rest: a tiny sheet covered in glowing colors, depicting the red fireball of the sun emerging from behind a white veil of mist, above the tops of dark green pine trees and in front of a heavy, reddish-purple wall of clouds. Nolde himself recognized the premonitory quality of this watercolor and kept it as a special treasure. "It lay on my desk for a long while," he later recalled. "I must have gazed at it a thousand times. It seemed to be pointing in some direction, because it gave me so much pleasure. But I couldn't manage to paint another picture of this kind. Was I aware of the long way from the faithful copying of what one sees and enjoys around one--which was how all my pictures to date had come into being-- to the free invention of images, forming from deep within oneself?" (quoted in M. Urban, Emil Nolde, Flowers and Animals, New York, 1966, pp. 10-11).

Indeed, after the years at St. Gallen, it would be another decade until Nolde picked up watercolor once again, this time during a stay at Cospeda, near Jena, in 1908. Here, Nolde has recounted, "I made great advances in this technique...and painting in watercolors has remained a need for me ever since...From the intimate, somewhat fussy manner of my earliest watercolors, I progressed with infinite trouble towards a freer, broader, and more flowing style, which requires especially thorough understanding of and feeling for the different types of paper and the possibilities of color" (quoted in ibid., p. 8). His breakthrough at Cospeda occurred as he was painting winter landscapes en plein air and the falling snow began to melt onto his work, causing the colors to run into one another and to crystallize on the page. "I was painting small pictures," he explained. "They wouldn't turn out properly. So I decided to try watercolors and painted a glowing red sun setting over the slush; I painted the white, falling snow. Half-finished and finished pictures were scattered around, covered with snow, so that I had to look for them. I was astounded at how the texture of the colors had altered under the snow. Sometimes I also painted in the ice-cold evenings, and I enjoyed seeing the colors freeze into crystal stars and rays. I loved this collaboration with nature, in which painter, reality, and painting seemed to fuse into one entity" (quoted in ibid., p. 29).

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