The Expressionist Emil Nolde is arguably the most famous ‘degenerate artist’. No other artist had as many works confiscated, nor were their works as prominently displayed in the early venues of the Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937/38.
How does Nolde’s ostracism and occupational ban fit with our knowledge that he was a National Socialist (Nazi) Party member, and that he kept faith with the regime until the end of the war? The art critic Adolf Behne underlined Nolde’s special status on the artist’s eightieth birthday in 1947, by pointedly referring to him as a “degenerate ‘degenerate’”. It has long been known that Emil Nolde was a party member. Yet no previous exhibition has thoroughly examined what this had to do with his art, or how the historical circumstances around National Socialism affected his artistic production.
The exhibition Emil Nolde – A German Legend. The Artist during the Nazi Regime is based on the results of a multi-year academic research project which for the first time was able to analyse the extensive holdings of the Nolde estate in Seebüll, uncovering so much new material that the conventional Nolde narrative must be revised.
Thus, for example, the exhibition will present the famous Unpainted Pictures – the small-format watercolours Nolde was reputed to have secretly painted at Seebüll during his occupational ban – in a completely new light, explaining them as part of a long-standing practice of self-stylisation. The importance of this self-stylisation – and how strongly it has influenced our view of Nolde – will be demonstrated to visitors through a reconstruction of the ‘hall of paintings’ in Nolde’s studio house in Seebüll. This reconstruction will display the paintings and watercolours just as the ageing artist himself arranged them during the wartime winter of 1941/42.