Emil Nolde



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Emil Nolde (* 7 August 1867 as Emil Hansen in Nolde; † 13 April 1956 in Seebüll) was one of the leading German Expressionists. His colourful, expressive watercolours in particular left their mark on 20th-century German art.


Emil Hansen was born on 7 August 1867 in the village of Nolde. At the age of 35, he will change his name to Emil Nolde. This is seen as a personal but also artistic commitment to his homeland and a landscape that shapes his entire oeuvre. In 1884 Emil Nolde began an apprenticeship as a wood sculptor, which was followed by an apprenticeship in industrial drawing at the Museum of Industry and Trade in St. Gallen from 1892 to 1897. In 1898, he began studying painting in Munich at Friedrich Fehr’s school, but in 1899 he transferred to the Hölzel school in Dachau. That same year, the artist travels to Paris and enrols at the Académie Julien.

Alsen & Berlin

He returned to Germany and married Ada Vilstrup in 1902. In 1903 the couple moved to the Danish island of Alsen. His landscape and garden paintings increasingly gained colour, so that the artists’ association “Brücke” encouraged him to join. Nolde accepted this invitation in 1906 but left again in 1907. A year later, Nolde joined the Berlin Secession, from which he was expelled in 1910 after a dispute with its president Max Liebermann. The artists’ association “Neue Secession” was formed in Berlin, in whose …
Nolde played a major role in its foundation. The artist spends the winter months with his wife in Berlin, where he mainly produces pictures of nightlife in Berlin and mask still lifes. In 1911 and 1912 he created the nine-part painting ‘The Life of Christ’. His religious paintings bring him great attention, but public reactions differ greatly.

In 1913/14 Nolde undertakes a trip to the South Seas with his wife Ada, during which he creates numerous watercolours, paintings and smaller wooden sculptures. In 1916 the artist moved to Utenwarf and in 1920 accepted Danish citizenship, although he continued to feel German.

Emil Nolde in Seebüll

In 1927, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Kiel University. In the same year, the couple acquired an empty mound near Neukirchen and named it Seebüll. The artist plans to build a home with a studio and a lush flower garden there, which will serve as a source of artistic inspiration for him. Ada and Emil Nolde moved into the adjacent farmhouse in 1927 before moving into the completed residence in 1930. On the occasion of Nolde’s 60th birthday in 1927, extensive anniversary exhibitions are held in Dresden, Hamburg, Kiel, Essen and Wiesbaden.

Empowerment of National Socialists

In 1933 the artist falls ill with stomach cancer and has to undergo surgery in Hamburg in 1935. After the National Socialists came to power, 1052 of his works were confiscated in 1937, including 455 sheets from the Museum Folkwang in Essen. In 1941 he was excluded from the “Reichskunstkammer” (Reich Chamber of Art), which prohibited him from any professional activity in the field of fine arts. In 1944, his Berlin studio was bombed out, resulting in the loss of around 3000 prints, watercolours and drawings, as well as works from his collection by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Kokoschka and Lyonel Feininger, among others.

Late Years

Ada Nolde died on 2 November 1946. On 22 February 1948 Nolde marries the 26-year-old Jolanthe Erdmann, daughter of the pianist friend Eduard Erdmann. Among many other awards, he was awarded the Stephan Lochner Medal of the City of Cologne in 1949, the Graphic Arts Prize of the XXVI Venice Biennale in 1950, and the Order “Pur le mérite” in 1952.

Emil Nolde dies on 13 April 1956 in Seebüll. The Seebüll Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation, established in his will, was recognised as a foundation with legal capacity on 12 June 1956. The “Unpainted Pictures” created during and after the war were increasingly exhibited in Germany and abroad from 1961 onwards and attracted great interest from the press and the public. Emil Nolde was anti-Semitic throughout his life, and only tried to distance himself from the National Socialists after the World War.


1884/1888 – Apprenticeship as a wood sculptor.

1892/1897 – Teacher for industrial drawing at the Museum of Industry and Trade in St. Gallen.

1898/99 – Moves to Munich and attends Friedrich Fehr’s private painting school. In summer of 1899 at the Hölzel school in Dachau.

1900 – Attends the Académie Julien, Paris. Returns to Nolde in the summer.

1902 – Marriage to Ada Vilstrup.

1906/07 – Member of the artist group “Brücke”.

1908 – Member of the “Berlin Secession”.

1910 – Expulsion from the “Berlin Secession”. Nolde is co-founder of the “Neue Sezession”, Berlin.

1913/14 – Journey to the South Seas.

1920 – Nolde accepts Danish citizenship.

1926 – Honorary doctorate from Kiel University.

1927 – Move to Seebüll.

1931 – Member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin.

1933/1937 – Nolde falls ill with stomach cancer and undergoes surgery in Hamburg in 1935. In 1937, 1052 works were confiscated. 48 works hang in the exhibition “Degenerate Art”.

1938/1945 – Despite a ban on painting, he creates more than 1000 small-format watercolours (“Ungemalte Bilder”).

1941 – Exclusion from the “Reichskunstkammer”.

1944 – The Berlin studio is bombed out.

1946 – Awarded the title of professor by the state government of Schleswig-Holstein. Death of his wife, Ada.

1948 – Marriage to Jolanthe Erdmann.

1949 – Stephan Lochner Medal of the City of Cologne.

1950 – Graphic Arts Prize of the XXVI Biennale, Venice.

1952 – Award of the Order “Pour le mérite”.

1956 – Emil Nolde dies in Seebüll on 13 April. Establishment of the “Seebüll Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation”.




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