PARIS.- German expressionism is a new subject in France. Emil Nolde (1867-1956), one of the main representatives of the movement, has never had a retrospective. For the first time in France, an ambitious exhibition pays homage to this great figure of modern art by bringing together ninety paintings (including the polyptych Life of Christ from the Nolde foundation in Seebüll, Germany) and seventy watercolours, engravings and drawings. This ensemble is presented in a chronological sequence divided into themes (The Enchanted Mountain, A Country, Fighting Years, Bible stories and legends, Graphic Work, Berlin Night, World, Homeland, Fantasies and unpainted painting, The Sea). For the general public, it will be a discovery; and for connoisseurs, a unique opportunity to see paintings brought together from all over the world illustrating his entire oeuvre.
Working firstly as a wood carver and ornamentist, Nolde came to painting later in life. He was trained in Munich and Paris in 1900 and quickly became known for his wild painting which had learned much from Van Gogh. The young artists in Die Brücke asked for his support: he battled for a new art form on all fronts and was even excluded from the Berlin secession in 1911.
Divided between his roots in Schleswig, on the Danish border, and his fascination for the metropolis of Berlin, between his taste for solitude and the spectacle of social life, this rough yet tender artist of peasant stock constructed a unique oeuvre which was often misunderstood.
Nolde, who believed he incarnated the German spirit in modern painting, was nonetheless very badly treated when the Nazis came to power. His membership of the National Socialist Party in 1934 did not spare him from public defamation and he figured among the degenerate artists in the 1937 exhibition. Already seventy, he refused to submit to the aesthetic diktats of the regime and in 1941 was forbidden to paint altogether. He withdrew to Seebüll and secretly produced a thousand small watercolours. A few of these moving "unpainted images" are included in the exhibition.
International recognition came swiftly after the war and Nolde was acclaimed during his lifetime as one of the most important artists of his time.
Noldes work is remarkable for its extraordinary colour combinations, uncompromising line and unmatched narrative verve. The human being is his main concern, brilliantly presented in portraits, mother and child figures, and couples. Landscapes and still lifes are like bright dreams, in which contemplation of everyday life and nature is transfigured by his audacious colours. His religious subjects overturn all attempts made in this field in the modern period and try to find the roots of a primitive religion, close to man.
Turnabout scathing and serene, Nolde paints both the social theatre and all mankind. He lived to a great age for his time 89 traversed both world wars and has left an oeuvre which continues to dialogue with the most contemporary art work today.