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Emil Nolde: The Splendour of Colors opens at the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden
A man looks at works (L-R) Martyrdom I, II, III from 1921 by the painter Emil Nolde (1867–1956) at the Frieder Burda Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany, on June 14, 2013. The exhibition 'Emil Nolde. Glory of Colors' will open on June 15 to October 13, 2013. AFP PHOTO / ULI DECK.

BADEN-BADEN.- Emil Nolde. The Splendor of Colors is the name of the large-scale summer exhibition that is being mounted at the Museum Frieder Burda from June 15 to October 13, 2013. It is the first extensive presentation of Nolde’s works in southern Germany in many years. It comprises about sixty oil paintings and twenty watercolors ranging from the beginning of his artistic career to his late work. The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Nolde Foundation Seebüll and will be curated by Manfred Reuther, the former director of the Nolde Foundation.

Emil Nolde (1867–1956) is one of the most important artists of Expressionism. The comprehensive presentation features the principal themes of his creative work. Besides landscapes, it includes figure paintings and portraits, religious motifs, as well as impressions from his journey to the South Sea.

The lushly colored paintings reveal the complexity of Nolde’s lifeworld. What they all share is the emotional power of color. Manfred Reuther: “From the beginning of his painterly work, Nolde’s artistic development was the path to color as an ultimate means of expression, which he increasingly mastered.” Nolde was convinced: “Colors were a joy to me, and I felt as if they loved my hands.” His colorful paintings and watercolors testify to his affinity with nature and his search for primal human states. Radiant red, dark blue, deep black, and intense lilac—these are some of the expressive colors Emil Nolde used to paint romantic landscapes and dramatic seascapes.

“I love the music of colors”
Manfred Reuther: “In Nolde’s artistic development, the phenomenon of color was not brought to his attention from outside, was not prepared or guided by theoretical schools of thought; rather, his distinct propensity for color was a natural, latent gift and qualitative inclination that he possessed early on and which sought to evolve. Even as a child, the young Nolde was aware of his inherent urge for pictorial composition and his special talent. He confided in the village pastor that his secret desire was to become a painter. He recalls his first creative use of colors in his autobiography: ‘In school, I painted over all of the pictures in my Bible story and even then constantly lived in the joy of color.’

In the difficult position of not having any appropriate materials, he found his own, attempting his first paintings with elderberry or beet juice. His parents appear to have recognized their child’s special longing, and he received the paint box he so eagerly desired for Christmas.”

Nolde dealt intensely with color studies during his years as a teacher at the Museum of Industrial Art in St. Gallen. “I somewhat boldly sought to unite the most contradictory, the warmest and the coldest—vermillion and indigo—on a white ground, and that was much too deliberate,” he reports. “I tore up the sheet.” He began to experiment with colors in about 1903 by investigating the effect of certain chemicals on wood and their chromatic changes. He was especially interested in the relation between light and color.

For his painting, Nolde chose colors that occur in nature. By intensifying the color values he observed in nature and placing them directly alongside one another in a painting, he succeeded in heightening the expressiveness and brilliance of the color in such a way that its impact extended far beyond impressions received in nature. “A color defines its neighboring color through its radiance,” is how Nolde described his approach, “in the same way as in music a sound attains its tonal effect from its neighboring sound.” He did not pursue a specific scheme or a programmatic system; rather, in most cases the picture and its chromatic definition came about during the painting process itself. Nolde is confident that “a painter does not need to know much; it is fine if he can spontaneously paint as purposefully as he breathes, as we walks.” He continues: “I therefore avoided any speculation in advance; a vague idea of color was sufficient, the painting unfolded under the work performed by my hands.”

Numerous Watercolors
In addition to his lushly colored oil paintings, Nolde’s numerous watercolors reflect his eagerness to experiment. Manfred Reuther explains: “His painting with watercolors is characterized by extraordinary diversity. The unique quality of watercolors accommodated his pursuit of spontaneity and direct expression. He painted with a completely drenched, heavy brush in rapid, fluid movements, attempting to switch off his inhibiting reason and primarily follow his instinct. Pictures grew out of irregularities, spots, and dribbles. The painter sought to encounter and achieve a union with the pictorial material with the directness of artisanry.”

The works on paper being presented in Baden-Baden include several from the Unpainted Pictures series, watercolors that the artist completed in his studio in Seebüll “from his imagination” during the period he was barred from painting.

Virgin Soil Remains His Home
Nolde traveled frequently and to distant places. He repeatedly visited Denmark, Switzerland, and Italy for longer periods; toured Andalusia and Madrid in 1921; and in 1913–14 he traveled via Moscow, Siberia, Korea, Japan, and China to the South Sea, where he participated in the “medical-demographic German-New Guinea-Expedition” at the invitation of the “Imperial Colonial Office.” Motifs from all of these worlds found entrance in his art. However, in his understanding of himself as an artist, he remained connected with his home all his life. He believed the “primal ground” of his artistry to be “deeply rooted in the soil of his immediate home. Even if my knowledge and my longing for artistic growth and means of representation extend to the most distant primeval regions, be it in reality, in my imagination, or in a dream—virgin soil remains my home.”

Flower Beds next to the Museum Frieder Burda
Emil Nolde loved flowers, and everywhere he spent time he laid out a garden. Whether blue larkspur, red cornflowers, lilac irises, or yellow sneezeweed plants: the artist found inspiration in the colorful floral splendor, and it served as a motif for numerous paintings of flowers and gardens. In conjunction with this large-scale showcase exhibition, the Baden-Baden Department of Parks has laid out four large flowerbeds along Lichtentaler Allee.

“The chromaticity of each flowerbed reflects that in one of the flower paintings by Emil Nolde being presented in the exhibition. All of the beds have a wooden frame, like a picture frame. We adapted their dimensions to the paintings’ formats and multiplied them sixfold,” explains Markus Brunsing, Director of the Baden-Baden Department of Parks, who developed the concept for the flowerbeds. However, the paintings were not reproduced in flowers one-to-one; rather, the atmospheres of color are expressed with blossoms, painting in the park with the colors of blossoms.

Sixty different varieties and kinds of annual summer flowers were planted. Because Nolde uses vibrant colors, these beds contain flowers in radiant red, orange, yellow, and blue, including snapdragons, bluetops, begonias, garden cosmos, bluebells, poppies, garden heliotropes, sage, and larkspur. This is the first time that the thematic aspect of an exhibition is being rendered in nature using plants.

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June 15, 2013

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