Emil Nolde (7 August 1867 – 13 April 1956) was a German painter and printmaker. He was one of the first Expressionists, a member of Die Brücke, and is considered to be one of the great oil painting and watercolour painters of the 20th century. He is known for his vigorous brushwork and expressive choice of colors. Golden yellows and deep reds appear frequently in his work, giving a luminous quality to otherwise somber tones. His watercolors include vivid, brooding storm-scapes and brilliant florals.
Nolde's intense preoccupation with the subject of flowers reflect his continuing interest in the art of Vincent Van Gogh.
He was born as Emil Hansen near the village of Nolde, (now part of the Danish municipality of Burkal), Province of Schleswig-Holstein. He was raised on a farm; his parents, devout Protestants, were Frisian and Danish peasants. Between 1884 and 1888, he trained as a craftsman and worked in woodcarving, and worked in furniture factories as a young adult. In 1889, he gained entrance into the School of Applied Arts in Karlsruhe before becoming a drawing instructor in Switzerland from 1892 to 1898, eventually leaving this job to finally pursue his dream of becoming an independent artist. As a child had loved to paint and draw, but he was already 31 by the time he pursued a career as an artist. When he was rejected by the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1898, he spent the next three years taking private painting classes and visiting Paris and becoming familiar with the contemporary impressionist scene that was popular at this time. He married Danish actress Ada Vilstrup in 1902 and moved to Berlin, where he would meet collector Gustav Schiefler and artist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, both of whom would advocate his work later in life. He spent a brief time between 1906-1907 as a member of the revolutionary expressionist group Die Brücke, and a member of the Berlin Secession in 1908-1910, but he eventually left or was expelled from both of these groups – biographical foreshadowing of the difficulty Nolde had maintaining relationships with the organizations to which he belonged. He had achieved some fame by this time and was exhibiting with Kandinsky’s Der Blaue Reiter group in 1912, supporting himself through his art.
From 1902 he called himself after his birthplace. He realized the farm life was not for him and that he and his three brothers were nothing alike. Between 1884 and 1891, he studied to become a carver and illustrator in Flensburg. He spent his years of travel in Munich, Karlsruhe and Berlin. From 1906 to 1907 he was a member of the artist group Die Brücke (The Bridge).
Nolde was a supporter of the Nazi party from the early 1920s, having become a member of its Danish section. He expressed negative opinions about Jewish artists, and considered Expressionism to be a distinctively Germanic style. This view was shared by some other members of the Nazi party, notably Joseph Goebbels.
However Hitler rejected all forms of modernism as "degenerate art", and Nolde's work was officially condemned by the Nazi regime. Until that time he had been held in great prestige in Germany. 1052 of his works were removed from museums, more than any other artist. Some were included in the Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937, despite his protests, including (later) a personal appeal to Nazi gauleiter Baldur von Schirach in Vienna. He was not allowed to paint—even in private—after 1941. Nevertheless, during this period he created hundreds of watercolors, which he hid. He called them the "Unpainted Pictures". After World War II, Nolde was once again honoured, receiving the German Order of Merit, the country's highest civilian decoration. He died in Seebüll (now part of Neukirchen).
Apart from paintings, Nolde's work includes many prints, often in color and watercolor paintings of various sizes, including landscapes, religious images, flowers, stormy seas and scenes from Berlin nightlife. A famous series of paintings covers the German New Guinea Expedition, visiting the South Seas, Moscow, Siberia, Korea, Japan, and China. The Schiefler Catalogue raisonné of his prints describes 231 etchings, 197 woodcuts, 83 lithographs, and 4 hectographs.