National Galleries of Scotland Emil Nolde Colour is Life  Modern 2 Review Thursday 12th July 2018

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Free Spirit, 1906 © Nolde Stiftung Seebüll

National Galleries of Scotland Emil Nolde Colour is Life  Modern 2

Emil Nolde Colour is Life at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern 2) from 14 July  to 21 October 2018 pays tribute to one of the great colourists of the 20th century with this impressive exhibition comprising around 100 paintings, drawings, watercolours and prints. These works are from the unparalleled collection belonging to Emil Nolde Foundation in Seebüll (the artist’s former home in north Germany) and cover all aspects and years of the artist’s works.  Visually impressive as the collection is, however, these works represent only a small portion of the prodigious multi media output of Emil Nolde.

Born in the German Village of Nolde, (near the German/Danish border) in 1867, Hans Emil Hansen (later Nolde1867-1956) adopted the name of his hometown upon his marriage in 1902 to his wife Ada, a dancer who was very much part of the bustling cabaret and theatre life of the time.  The combination of his rural farming upbringing and the world of actors, singer and dancers were often represented in his work.  In fact, had it not been for his apprenticeship as a wood carver, the chances are that the young Emil would have followed his father’s footsteps into farming.

Emil Nolde’s life saw many turbulent changes since his birth in 1867 – World War 1, the Russian Revolution, World War 2, the rise of the Nazi Party (of which he was a member at one time), the separation of Germany after WW2 and so many other events large and small that would have made the world of his birth almost unrecognisable to the man who died nearly 90 years later.

Emil Nolde, rightly or wrongly, will forever have his work associated with Hitler and Nazi Germany. Part of the reason for his joining the party was to try and gain some influence over the direction art would take in the “new Germany”, so perhaps his Nazi party membership needs to be viewed in a far wider context than we often view it today.  Hitler, of course, as we know from history, detested what he termed “Degenerate Art”, and no one artist had more of their work represented (33)  in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich in 1937.  As well as this, over 1,000 of his works were confiscated, and he was banned from working openly as a professional artist, unable to show, or to sell his works.  Perhaps though, with hindsight, this was the best outcome for Emil Nolde as post war, his Nazi party membership was in the eyes of many cancelled out by his treatment at their hands.

As you go round this exhibition, the most immediate theme running through everything is colour, and this is more than just the source for the title of this exhibition.  To Emil Nolde, colour was life itself, and his work is often trying to look past the sitter or the landscape to some inner soul.  The works on display cover many important periods of the artist’s life including his trip to the South Seas in 1914.

Curating any exhibition of Emil Nolde’s work is always going to be difficult due to his large output over the years, but there are some iconic images here including

Singer (in a green dress), 1910-11

Paradise Lost, 1921

Large Poppies (Red, Red, Red), 1942

Free Spirit, 1906

As well as being one of the major expressionists and colourists of the 20th century, Emil Nolde was also one of the most important and innovative print-makers of the 20th century and his endless fascination with colours and printing techniques is well represented here.

Perhaps though, the most impressive element of this exhibition is not actually the works on display themselves, but the fact that they are timeless.  There is nothing dated about these works, they remain as relevant and powerful as the day they were created, and when you consider that some of these works are over 100 years old, that itself gives a statement as to just how innovative and far reaching the mind and work of Emil Nolde was (and still is).

Review by Tom King

 

Part of Edinburgh Art Festival.

Emil Nolde | Colour is Life

From 14 July 2018 to 21 October 2018

£10 (£8) Free for Our Friends

 

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