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

Kopf eines Jungen Mädchen

Details
Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
Kopf eines Jungen Mädchen
signed ‘Nolde.’ (lower right)
watercolor on Japan paper
18 1/2 x 13 1/4 in. (47 x 33.5 cm.)
Executed in Sylt in late summer 1930
Provenance
Paul Kantor Gallery (K575), Beverly Hills, by 1958.
Private collection, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 26 February 1990, lot 80.
Acquired at the above sale by Acquavella Contemporary Art, Inc., New York, on behalf of the present owners.
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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

Dr. Manfred Reuther from the Nolde Stiftung, Seebüll, has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

In late August 1930, while the house that he had recently built at Seebüll was under repair, Nolde travelled to the nearby island of Sylt and took a room at the Haus Kliffende in Kampen, a modest pension with sweeping views over the North Sea. His intention during his solitary two-month stay there was to paint seascapes and to complete the first chapter of his autobiography, both of which he accomplished. Yet he also found his attention drawn unexpectedly to a fellow guest at the inn—a sculptor from Berlin named Margarete Turgel, the subject of the present watercolour, who was on holiday on Sylt with her husband Siegfried. She had jet-black hair, worn in a short bob with bangs, and a penetrating gaze beneath heavy, dark brows. ‘I find her somewhat cold, but also very dark and serious,’ Nolde wrote to his wife Ada on 18 September. ‘When animated she is beautiful and often very beautiful. Her colours are black and yellow’ (Nolde, quoted in M. Urban, Emil Nolde, Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, vol. II, London, 1990, p. 398).

Although the human face, and the primordial passions that could be discerned there, was the abiding theme of Nolde’s art, he rarely painted portraits in the conventional sense, preferring to concentrate on freely imagined figures. ‘He had to be exceptionally fascinated by a personality to do a portrait,’ Werner Haftmann has noted (W. Haftmann, Emil Nolde, New York, 1959, no. 27). Such was the case, it would seem, with Margarete Turgel. While at Sylt, Nolde made two oil portraits of this striking woman, alternately seated and standing alongside a vase of flowers (Urban, nos. 1097-1098), and a series of at least five watercolours that depict her in various moods and postures, one of which he inscribed ‘Seltsam schöne [strangely beautiful] Frau’. He also rendered from imagination a standing nude with Turgel’s likeness (Urban, no. 1109). ‘I would have liked to paint her nude,’ he wrote to Ada, ‘he [Herr Turgel] would have said “yes”, but her answer was a straight “no”’ (Nolde, quoted in M. Urban, op. cit., 1990, p. 413).

In Kopf eines Jungen Mädchen, Nolde captured Turgel in a traditional attitude of contemplation, her head resting against one hand and her gaze poignantly downcast. When working in watercolour, he typically dampened the paper before beginning to paint, allowing the fluid, transparent colours to flow into one another, blurring contours and altering forms. Here, pools of violet-blue shadow spill across the sitter’s face, neck, and arms, creating an exquisitely moody effect that accentuates the brooding intensity of her pose. Against this cool-toned miasma of colour, her piercing black eyes and hotly sensuous, ruby-red mouth stand out in expressive contrast. ‘I prefer to avoid deliberation beforehand, just a vague idea, a glow and colour suffices,’ Nolde explained. ‘Under the work of my hands the picture develops itself’ (Nolde, quoted in Emil Nolde: Watercolours and Graphics, exh. cat., Galerie Michael Beck, Leipzig, 1995, p. 14).

At the time of their visit to Sylt, Margarte and Siegfried Turgel were part of Berlin’s flourishing artistic community; as a sculptor, she was best known for the whimsical, highly original animal figures that she created from silver foil. In 1933, when the Nazis seized power, the couple fled Germany—Margarete was Jewish—and settled in southern France, where they survived the war years and remained for the rest of their lives.

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