Emil Nolde's enchanting Blumengarten, ohne Figur is an outstanding example of his important early flower and garden paintings. Nolde's highly direct technique using thick impasto to build an almost relief-like surface of blooming petals and verdant undergrowth marked him out to his younger contemporaries such as Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel as a truly innovative artist, one whose style greatly influenced their formative careers (figs. 1 & 2). Nolde has used the subject of the garden to express his exultant joy in nature. The dynamic and spontaneous brushstrokes of the present work conjure a rustling breeze that fills the composition with a jubilant energy, conveyed in vivid scarlet and blues, turquoise and violet. Indeed the gratification Nolde felt was recorded by his friend and patron Gustav Schiefler when he paid a visit to Alsen: 'stocks and asters, pinks and carnations... while Frau Nolde and I chatted, as he worked he grew quieter and quieter, but his eyes glowed with pleasure as he applied one colour after another, subjecting the confusion of colour to the logic of form' (G. Scheifler in Emil Nolde (exhibition catalogue), Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1996, p. 118).
Emil and Ada Nolde moved to the village of Notsmarkov on the island of Alsen in the North Sea in 1903 (fig. 3). They rented a fisherman's cottage and set about creating the subject for some of the artist's most important works: the garden. His fourth stay on the island in 1906 marked the start of a fruitful, intensive phase of creativity when Nolde adopted a new powerful use of colour, shown in its maturity in Blumengarten, ohne Figur. The layout of the garden with its exquisitely composed flower-beds was as intrinsic to his technique as the preparation of his palette. Manfred Reuther noted that 'wherever Nolde lived, he tried to reshape his surroundings and to create flower gardens; in Alsen, at his house at Utenwarf by the North Sea, and later... at Seebüll. He longed for harmony with nature, to which he had felt so close and unbroken an affinity since early childhood' (M. Reuther in Emil Nolde (exhibition catalogue), ibid., p. 119).
The radiant energy emanating from Blumengarten, ohne Figur is due to Nolde's awareness of the nature around him, as both a gardener and a painter. The artist would take as his starting point easily identified localities and close-ups of flowers, rather than large scale panoramic views. The present work is one of his most compelling images, where he groups together flowers as bold patches of colours and paint texture, rather than denoting a particular species of flower or section of the garden, omitting narrative in favour of emotional intensity. As Nolde stated his aim was 'grasping what lies at the very heart of things' and 'transforming nature by infusing it with one's own mind and spirit' (quoted in Wolf-Dieter Dube, The Expressionists, London, 1977, p. 79).
Nolde had become aware of the work of Vincent van Gogh at the turn of the century at the Berlin Secession and through Schiefler, who had bought two paintings at the Dutch master's Amsterdam retrospective in 1905, one of which was Jardin fleuri à Arles (fig. 4). Nolde greatly admired these acquisitions, and wrote in a letter to Schiefler: 'The two paintings by van Gogh [...] are so wonderful, their impression stays with me so long in this isolated corner of the world that I think back to them' (quoted in Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism (exhibition catalogue), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2007, p. 56). The fervent dedication to expression and symbolic use of colour exhibited in van Gogh's works matched Nolde's own deeply held ideology. The artist wrote: 'I loved the music of colours... Yellow can depict happiness and also pain. Red can mean fire, blood or roses, blue can mean silver, the sky or a storm, each colour has a soul of its own' (quoted in Martin Urban, Emil Nolde Landscapes, New York, 1969, p. 16). The summation of these theories is found in his flower paintings such as Blumengarten, ohne Figur: 'The glowing colours of the flowers and the purity of the colours - I loved it all. I loved the flowers in their destiny: shooting up, blossoming, bending, fading, thrown into a ditch. A human destiny is not always so consistent and fine' (Emil Nolde, Jahre der Kämpfe, Cologne, 1967, p. 100).
Fig. 1, Emil Nolde, Große Mohnblumen, 1908, oil on canvas, Leopold-Hoesch-Museum der Stadt, Düren
Fig. 2, Emil Nolde, Blumengarten, 1908, oil on canvas, Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf
Fig. 3, Emil and Ada Nolde at the Fisherman's House on the island of Alsen, circa 1910
Fig. 4, Vincent van Gogh, Jardin fleuri à Arles , 1888, oil on canvas, Private Collection, Zurich
Oil on canvas
Halle, Kunstverein, 1914
Essen, Kunstverein, 1921
Bonn, Gesellschaft für Literatur und Kunst, 1921
Barmen, Ruhmeshalle, 1922
60 by 70cm. 23 5/8 by 27 1/2 in.
Artist's Handlist, 1910, a, no. 167
Artist's Handlist, 1910, b, no. 169
Artist's Handlist, 1910, c, no. 192
Artist's Handlist, 1930: listed as '1908 Blumengarten, ohne Figur'
Martin Urban, Emil Nolde. Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings, London, 1990, vol. I, no. 275, catalogued p. 246
Ada Nolde, Germany (the artist's wife)
Private Collection, Frankfurt (acquired from the above in 1926)
Thence by descent to the present owners