'I have, by now, got used to seeing my early, most beautiful pictures in your rooms. Otherwise I must say that I would have loved to keep them to myself and I would like these strong pictures to be part of my exhibitions' (Letter from Emil Nolde to Hans Fehr, 21st July 1910, cited in Hans Fehr, Emil Nolde. Ein Buch der Freundschaft Cologne, 1957, p. 73)
All his life Nolde was moved by the beauty of plants and flowers. In his later years in the grounds of his houses at Utenwarf and in Seebüll, Nolde created elaborate gardens filled with a wide range of exotic flowers from all around the globe.
Painted in 1907, Violette Blumen is one of the first series of flower paintings that Nolde painted during his summer visits to the Baltic island of Alsen in 1906, 1907 and 1908. Moving on from his purely impressionistic beginnings, the stark intensity of colour in a painting such as Violette Blumen reveals Nolde consciously using colour to stimulate and evoke an emotional response in the viewer.
Much of the inspiration for this 'humanizing' of nature came not just from Nolde's own personal experience but also from the example set for him by Vincent Van Gogh. Like Van Gogh, Nolde always aimed to work swiftly and impulsively over the surface of the picture in order to give energy and life to his paintings and heighten their sense of emotional intensity. Nolde, like many of his contemporaries, was greatly suspicious of the rational element in art and elevated instinct above reason as being the most important source of creativity. '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...When inspiration falters, even for a moment, barren reason leaps to the rescue, and then the work is ruined. If only I could catch it, I would pin reason against the wall and give it a good hiding.' (Emil Nodle cited in Max Sauerlandt ed., Emil Nolde Briefe aus den Jahren 1894-1926 Hamburg, 1967, p. 31)
On the island of Alsen it was the well-kept fisherman's cottages there, which had 'small, rich, beautifully kept gardens, surrounded by beech hedges and always abounding in flowers,' that inspired many of his finest and most adventurous paintings. For Nolde, flowers were a vivid example of the eternal cycle of birth, life and death in Nature. As a passage in his autobiography reveals, flowers were for him a beautiful product of creation and could be likened to a work of art in the sense that their life cycle was essentially the same. Both, he argued, were the products of natural forces and thereby subject to the same laws of creation and inevitable decay, 'shooting up, blooming, radiating, glowing, gladdening, drooping, wilting, and ultimately thrown away and dying. Our human destinies are by no means always so logical or so beautiful' (Emil Nolde. Jahre de Kämpfe 1902-1914, Berlin, 1934, p.228.).
Nolde's flower paintings communicate the artist's pantheist belief in nature and his love of all aspects of creation. In this respect they relate closely to his darker and more complex religious paintings, which Nolde insisted, demanded 'a particular attitude of mind' from the viewer.
Depicting the radiant blooming colour of a variety of different flowers sprouting from the green undergrowth and seeming to scream the richness and vitality of their from the surface of the picture, Violette Blumen is an intense and heavily textured work that boldly asserts Nolde's love of and atavistic faith in the beneficial power of the garden.
In its stark contrast of rich reds and deep purples set against their chromatic opposites of pale greens and light yellows, this painting radiates with a full colour intensity. It is an intensity for which Nolde, in these early years received some criticism from people complaining that such paintings falsely exaggerated the colours of nature. Such criticism Nolde strongly rebuked as he discussed with Hans Fehr at this time. 'The beholder', he told his friend, 'will say about my flower paintings that the colours are exaggerated. That is not true. I once positioned my canvases amidst the flowers themselves and saw immediately how much they paled compared to nature. We have no idea how jaded our eyes have become' (Emil Nolde in conversation with Hans Fehr in 1908, cited in Hans Fehr, op cit, p. 56).