Dr. Manfred Reuther has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
On 13 May 1933 the President of the Prussian Academy of Arts called on ten members, all elected as recently as 1931, to tender their voluntary resignation. Emil Nolde was asked but refused, and from this time on suffered censorship and persecution from the National Socialist Party. During the period of the worst persecutions, when he was actually forbidden to paint, he preserved his inner freedom by secretly executing hundreds of watercolours in his studio in Seebüll. These he called his Ungemalte Bilder, in which he used the technique of 'wet on wet' as in his earlier watercolours, allowing wet paint to flow over wet paper, in order to create spontaneous, evocative images in fluid transparent colours. Most of these works resemble illustrations of some invented story-line, spawned as they were from the artist’s fertile imagination. Almost all are figurative, including the cycle of Phantasien to which the present work belongs.
Letting the brush freely merge and expand the colours on the paper, in his Phantasien, Nolde let chance guide his imagination. Images and figures would emerge from the iridescent surface of the watercolours, evoking a world dominated by bizarre creatures, mysterious figures and stories from German folklore. Peter Selz writes, ‘By this time Nolde had learned more about human relationships, and in this great cycle he gave a passionate visual form to his wisdom. There are figures that appeal, reject, wail, smile and contemplate... This world is peopled with beautiful and desirable young women, blindly groping old men, grimacing gnomes and compassionate demons... The imagination often here recalls the dramatis personae of The Tempest, Peer Gynt, or Munch’s anxious fantasies, although it is much less perturbed than that of Munch. Indeed, Nolde’s private world has been transfigured into a serene realm of human actors whose chief function is their subservience to the colour which gave them birth’ (P. Selz, Emil Nolde, exh. cat., New York, 1963, pp. 72-73).
A favourite theme of Nolde’s Phantasien is the relationship between men and women. In the present work, the overlaying of the faces and the blending of colours creates an extremely mystical conception. The present work testifies how masterfully Nolde developed the medium of watercolour, making the most of its evocative qualities to create unique images with informality and spontaneity. 'In art I fight for unconscious creation,' he wrote to his friend Hans Fehr, reiterating elsewhere that 'the quicker a painting is done, the better it is' (Emil Nolde, Jahre der Kämpfe: 1902-1914, Berlin, 1934, p. 95.)