Emil Nolde was born Hans Emil Hansen on 7 August 1867, in Nolde, Denmark. He trained as a wood-carver and craftsman in Flensburg, but started taking night classes in art at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Karslruhe in 1889. From 1892 to 1898, Nolde honed his draughtsmanship whilst teaching in Switzerland at the Musée de l’Industrie et de l’Artisanat de Saint-Gall, then briefly in Munich. He produced his first painting in oil, Les Géants de la montagne, circa 1896 (Nolde Stiftung Seebüll, Neukirchen). In 1899, Nolde moved to Paris, where he took courses at the Académie Julian, copied the Old Masters in the Louvre and discovered the work of the Post-Impressionists, with a particular admiration for Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.
In 1902, Nolde returned to Denmark, where he met and married Ada Vilstrup. Shortly afterward, the couple settled in Berlin, spending winters in Germany and summers on the island of Alsen in the Baltic Sea. Paul Cassirer would hold a solo exhibition of Nolde’s work in 1905. Nolde’s riotous use of colour in his crudely painted landscapes, street scenes, and portraits drew the attention of the Dresden-based German Expressionist group Die Brücke; Nolde was invited to join the group in 1906, though he would leave the following year due to personal differences. From 1908, Nolde was a member of the Berlin Succession, though he would abandon this association in 1910 following a dispute with the president, Max Liebermann, to help establish the Neue Secession.
Around this time, Nolde’s interest in religious mysticism manifested in the depiction of numerous biblical subjects, which he had first begun to explore in 1909 whilst staying in the fishing village of Ruttebüll. Works such as the nine-panel Das Leben Christi (The Life of Christ), 1911-12 (Nolde Stiftung Seebüll, Neukirchen), betray Nolde’s interest in non-Western art and the work of James Ensor and Edvard Munch. In 1913, he embarked on an ethnological expedition to the Pacific organised by the German Colonial Office, visiting Russia, China and many Southeast Asian countries. In 1916, the Noldes moved to Utenwarf where they would remain until 1927, when they moved to Seebüll on the Baltic coast. The same year, Nolde was the subject of major retrospective held at Rudolph Probst’s gallery in Dresden. In spite of his support for the German National Socialist Party in the 1920s and 30s, Nolde’s work was still included in the Nazi exhibition of Entartete Kunst (‘Degenerate Art’) in 1937. Nolde would subsequently work on his series of watercolours, the so-called 'unpainted pictures’, from 1938 until the end of the war, keeping them hidden in his studio-home in Seebüll. In the post-war period, Nolde would rework some of these watercolours in oil but continued to paint watercolours up until 1955. Nolde exhibited at the Venice Biennale (1950, 1952 – winning the Grand Prize for Printmaking, 1956) and Documenta, Kassel (1955) in his lifetime. Nolde died on 13 April 1956, in Seebüll.
After Nolde’s death, his studio and home was converted in a museum, Nolde Stiftung Seebüll, which holds and displays a major collection of his work. Nolde’s work can also be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Neue Galerie, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Brücke Museum, Berlin; Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf; the Albertina, Vienna; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Kunstmuseum Basel.
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