Saturday 23 March 2019

What Lies Beneath: Light Breaking Through by Emil Nolde

Light Breaking Through by Emil Nolde, Oil on canvas. Courtesy National Gallery of Ireland and Nolde Stiftung Seebull

Light Breaking Through by Emil Nolde
Light Breaking Through by Emil Nolde

Niall MacMonagle

For EE Cummings "worlds are made/ of hello and goodbye" - but how are we to say goodbye?

Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, Richard Strauss composed Four Last Songs and Emil Nolde (1867-1956), aged 83, painted this magnificent work.

Born in Nolde, on the German-Danish border, Emil Hansen, a farmer's son, honoured his birthplace and changed his name when he married. Woodcarver, draughtsman, furniture maker, Nolde in his 20s painted landscapes and his postcard images of the Swiss Alps as ogres made him a fortune.

He moved to Munich, Paris, Copenhagen; he and his wife settled on Alsen, an island in the Baltic, later on a farm near Tondern, later again a farm at Seebull. Always on the go, Nolde travelled to Siberia, Korea, Japan, China, the South Seas. Feted and ridiculed during his lifetime, Nolde was included in many public collections, won prizes - but his expressionist art was denounced as degenerate and decadent by the Nazi Party and confiscated,

Happiness and success fluctuated. A widower at 79, he married again, two years later, a 26 year old; he showed at the Venice Biennale in 1950, 1952 and 1956.

An astonishing life's work, impressive in its range and subject matter, reflecting Nolde's colourful life is now on show in a brilliant, unmissable Emil Nolde Colour is Life exhibition at the National Gallery. A portrait of his two nephews, an ecstatic, erotic Annunciation, images of farmland, cafe and cabaret society, soldiers, dancers, sensuous flower gardens, a skater, young Aboriginals, South Sea warriors, agitated old men, or Paradise Lost - an oil on sackcloth! - depicting a disgruntled Adam, an astonished Eve, Nolde's oils, watercolours, woodcuts will open your eyes to genius. And this seascape, painted 1950, of the North Sea.

In old age, Nolde is returning to the place he knew as a boy. It's as if the viewer is in the sea, surrounded by its dark, brooding movement, its brilliant, luxurious colours beneath a turbulently beautiful sky and light breaking through. Goodbye world. Goodbye sea. Goodbye sky. Timeless, beyond politics and always in motion.

Emil Nolde at the NGI until June 10

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