Emil Nolde (German, 1867-1956) Grüne Küstenlandschaft mit Dampfer (This work belongs to a series of seascapes executed on the coast of St. Peter, Germany, during Spring 1946.)

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Lot 19AR
Emil Nolde
(German, 1867-1956)
Grüne Küstenlandschaft mit Dampfer

Sold for £ 68,500 (US$ 88,669) inc. premium
Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
Grüne Küstenlandschaft mit Dampfer
signed 'Nolde' (lower right)
watercolour, pen and India ink on Japan paper
22.3 x 27cm (8 3/4 x 10 5/8in).
This work belongs to a series of seascapes executed on the coast of St. Peter, Germany, during Spring 1946.


  • The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Professor Dr. Manfred Reuther.

    Frederic J. Brand Collection, Dortmund (probably acquired directly from the artist by the 1950s).
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    'Nolde knows the sea as no artist before him has known it. He does not look at it from the beach or from a ship, he sees it as it lives in itself, having nothing to do with man, as the churning, ever-changing, utterly self-sufficient, self-depleting, divine primeval element that to this day has preserved the untamed freedom of the first day of Creation.' (M. Suerlandt quoted in A. Husslein-Arco and S. Koja (eds.), Emil Nolde – In Radiance and Color, Munich, 2013, p. 130)

    The German North Sea, with its beautiful colourful sunsets, constantly changing dramatic skies and endless horizons was, time and again, represented in watercolours and paintings by the celebrated German Expressionist painter, Emil Nolde. Grüne Küstenlandschaft mit Dampfer is a superb example of the artist's affinity with his native seascape, revealing his deeply rooted connection to Northern Germany where, despite travelling the world, he would live throughout his lifetime - always returning to its coastline to express his profound fascination with the subject: 'I am of the opinion that my art, despite all my travels, is deeply rooted in my homeland, in the narrow strip of land here between the two seas.' (E. Nolde quoted in A. Husslein-Arco and S. Koja (eds.), ibid., p. 124).

    The present watercolour was executed in 1946 at a critical turning point in Nolde's artistic career. During the Nazi era the painter was branded a 'degenerate artist' and banned from painting or from any artistic expression. In light of these sanctions, he executed his famous 'forbidden paintings' during the war years - smaller watercolours and sketches that he painted secretly at his home in Seebüll with the intention of reproducing them in large-scale at a later date. Now, in the spring of 1946, Nolde eagerly devoted himself once again to a series of watercolours, feeling that his hands were finally released and that he could freely paint again: 'In the first summer after [the Second World War] I had already started painting happily and, indeed, I could still paint! I did not know if I would still be capable of it.' (E. Nolde, Mein Leben, Cologne, 2008, p. 435).

    1946 was also a significant year for Emil Nolde due to personal reasons. His beloved wife Ada, who had always been at his side throughout most of his travels, was struck by a serious disease. She had been unwell for a number of years preceding this new illness, but it significantly worsened her condition. Consequently, Emil and Ada decided to find some long-sought relief at the seaside health resort of Sankt Peter in Northern Germany. After a short while, Ada's health began to improve: 'Was it the change of air or the approaching spring?' Nolde questioned. 'She accompanied me again during painting sessions.... Indeed, she was feeling so well, that we went for daily walks into the dunes.' (E. Nolde, ibid, p. 435).

    The improvement in Ada's health and the immense joy that Nolde felt in his new artistic freedom undoubtedly led to the striking series of seascape watercolours that he produced from his easel in the dunes, and of which the present picture forms a part. Grüne Küstenlandschaft mit Dampfer is also testament to how perfectly Nolde captures the atmosphere of the coastal scenes, rendered through his unique painterly style which he mastered over many years.

    Emil Nolde developed his distinctive colouring technique in 1908, while painting en plein air. Standing at his easel one chilly winter's day it began to snow and, as the snowflakes fell onto his paper, he observed the way in which they melted and caused the colours of the pigment to bleed. Indeed, Nolde was so fascinated by this natural spectacle that he started to replicate the accidental effect. He would first dampen the paper and then fill it with layers of unmixed colour, allowing them to blur into each other, forming unintentional patterns and shapes before he built up the composition. This technique, which afforded great expressive potential, required the artist to work quickly in responding to the spontaneous forms which appeared, a method which had an even greater effect after Nolde began to use highly absorbent Japan paper from 1910 onwards. So drawn was Nolde to this way of working and the effects that it produced that his technique remained largely unchanged throughout his artistic career.

    Having saturated the entirety of Grüne Küstenlandschaft mit Dampfer with hues of green, blue and yellow, Nolde creates a dramatic symphony of glowing colour. Echoing the fluidity and wateriness of his subject through his technique, Nolde creates a composition which appears to be in flux – the sky and sea merging into one another with merely the pen and India ink forcing a separation and defining the coastal landscape. Sadly, Ada Nolde was to pass away on 7 November 1946, just six months after this vibrant testimony to new creative life and personal hope had been executed. The work remains a poignant reminder of the precious moments that Nolde shared with his wife before her death, and is an excellent example of Nolde's technique and fascination with the seascapes of Northern Germany.
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