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

Windiger Nachmittag

Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
Windiger Nachmittag
signed 'E. Nolde.' (lower right); signed and titled 'Emil Nolde: Windiger Nachmittag.' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
26 7/8 x 35 in. (68.2 x 88.9 cm.)
Painted in 1949
Philipp Adolph, Flensburg, by whom acquired from the artist in the 1950s.
Galerie Alex Vömel, Dusseldorf, by 1964.
Serge Sabarsky Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners in August 1970.
The artist's handlist, 1930 (titled '1949 Windiger Nachmittag').
M. Urban, Emil Nolde, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, vol. II, 1915-1951, London, 1990, no. 1321, p. 576 (illustrated).
Tønder, Tønder Museum, Emil Nolde, February 1951, no. 7.
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Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

‘Nolde understands the sea like no other painter before him. He sees it not from the beach or boat but as it exists in itself, devoid of any reference to man, eternally in motion, ever changing, living out its life in and for itself: a divine, self-consuming, primal force.’
(M. Sauerlandt, quoted in P. Vergo & F. Lunn, Emil Nolde, exh. cat., London, 1995, p. 132).

Windiger Nachmittag (Windy Afternoon), painted in 1949, is a highly expressive depiction of a tumultuous, stormy seascape, one of the most prominent and important themes of Emil Nolde’s career. Surrounded by the imposing presence of the sea for most of his life, Nolde had a deep, reverential love and fascination with this elemental aspect of nature. With richly expressive, intense swathes of colour, in Windiger Nachmittag, Nolde has vividly conveyed the immense and overwhelming power of the sea, creating a subjective, evocative vision of the landscape.

Windiger Nachmittag was painted while Nolde was living in Seebüll, on the German-Danish border. The artist was born and grew up in this area of northern Germany, and in 1926, built a home and studio in Seebüll, surrounded by the broad, expansive landscape, and the sea beyond. Nolde had a profound, spiritual attachment and sense of belonging to his homeland; the artist poetically described, ‘My homeland was like a fairy tale to me, my parental home in the flat country, thousands of skylarks rejoiced up and down, my wonderland from sea to sea’ (Nolde quoted in '"My Homeland was like a Fairy Tale to Me" – On Emil Nolde’s Landscape Paintings', in Emil Nolde, My Wonderland from Sea to Sea, exh. cat., Cologne, 2008, p. 43). Seebüll is located on a narrow strip of land that lies between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, a part of Germany that is often subject to tempestuous meteorological conditions induced by the collision of different weather systems from the bordering seas. The unsettled weather and spectacularly dramatic cloud formations served as boundless inspiration for Nolde, such as can be seen in Windiger Nachmittag.

Beneath the vividly coloured, storm-laden sky of Windiger Nachmittag lies an expanse of churning water, with large, foam-tipped, engulfing waves, described with a thickly worked, impastoed surface. With the horizon line in the middle of the composition, the sea fills half of the picture plane, emphasising the indomitable power of the waves that descend upon the viewer, an overwhelming mass of water. Specific locational detail is gone, the only human presence an indistinct black barge that appears on the right of the painting, its small scale an indicator of the immensity and might of the waves.

In Windiger Nachmittag, Nolde has not depicted a coastal view of the sea, but instead presented it as an unrestrained, immersive force in its most elemental form. The artist had an intense reverence for the primeval forces of nature, and was captivated by the mystical quality of the expansive, uninhabited and uncontrolled landscape of his beloved homeland. The force of the sea particularly enthralled Nolde; the artist recalled a stormy sea crossing that he had once experienced, ‘I stood gripping the rail, gazing and wondering as the waves and the ship tossed me up and down… for years afterwards, that day remained so vividly in my mind that I incorporated it into my sea paintings with their wild, mountainous green waves and only at the topmost edge a sliver of sulphorous sky’ (Nolde, quoted in Emil Nolde, exh. cat., London, 1995, p. 132). Within this context, Windiger Nachmittag is an expressive vision of Nolde’s subjective impression of the agitated sea, a transfiguration of nature into a bold composition of abstracted and intense colour.

The exaggerated and heightened colour in Windiger Nachmittag lends the composition its dramatic power. Colour was the central, expressive force of Nolde’s work throughout his career; ‘From very early on’, the artist explained, ‘I was very interested in colours and their properties, from delicate to powerful and especially the cold ones too. I loved purity and avoided all mixtures of cold and warm that lead to dirt and the killing of the brilliant forces’ (Nolde, quoted in op. cit., p. 43). In Windiger Nachmittag, surges of orange and yellow, and deep shades of blue evoke the turbulent, stormy sky, while the gestural, emphatic brushstrokes imitate the movement of the roiling sea, the thick impasto of the white wave crescents lending a tangible, expressive force to the depiction of the water. With an emphatic directness, Windiger Nachmittag presents a storm of colour, demonstrating the artist’s complete absorption in nature in its most primitive state, wild and unrestrained.

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