Painting of the Day

3 May

emil nolde masks

Masks. by Emil Nolde (1867-1956). Oil on canvas, 1911. Currently on view at the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri.

Notes from Stokstad & Cothren’s Art History, 4th edition:

Although not part of the original Die Brucke group, Emil Nolde joined in 1906 and quickly became its most committed member. Nolde originally trained in industrial design, studying academic painting privately in Paris for a few months in 1900, but he never painted as he was taught. Rather, Nolde regularly visited ethnographic museums to study the tribal arts of Africa and Oceania. He was impressed by the radical and forceful visual presence of the figural arts that he saw there. One result of his research was Masks of 1911, in which he seems to refer both to the masks he studied in Paris, and to those familiar to him from European carnivals. By collapsing these traditions together, Nolde transforms sources drawn from art beyond the Western tradition into a European nightmare full of horror and implicit violence. The gaping mouths and hollow eyes of the hideously colored and roughly drawn masks seem to mock the viewer, appearing to advance from the picture plane. Nolde also uses the juxtaposition of complementaries to intensify his colors and the violent emotions they are intended to communicate. On the eve of World War I, Nolde accompanied a German scientific expedition to New Guinea, explaining that what attracted him to the arts of Oceania was their “primitivism,” their “absolute originality, the intense and often grotesque expression of power and life in very simple forms–that may be why we like these works of native art.”

My comments:

I haven’t been able to post in a few weeks because I’ve been very busy with school work, but I finally found some time to post a painting. This painting jumped out at me for its rich color harmonies, which are absolutely breathtaking. Usually I find Nolde’s work to be  a little too garish, but in this painting he successfully keeps himself from crossing that line, and the colors both individually and in relation to each other are so beautiful. He does a really good job of balancing warm colors against cool ones.

In the notes above, Nolde specifically mentions the “primitivism” of Oceanic cultures, a word that has commonly been considered derogatory. In his quote, Nolde does seem to admire Oceanic art, but it could be argued that he does so in a condescending way, something that’s suggested even by calling it primitive art. He also tries to exaggerate the horrific qualities of the masks, even though there’s the possibility that they are not intended to be terrifying in that culture’s context. So he might be unfairly misinterpreting their culture’s traditions and spiritual practices in a way that might be offensive or inconsiderate. I’m leaning towards the interpretation that Nolde is in fact being condescending, because there’s nothing that gives evidence to the contrary in this textbook at least. Then again, the painting he made is indeed very beautiful, so perhaps this is just an example of non-malicious ignorance.


One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara May 3, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    does nolde have a drug problem?Or maybe he is just another very depressed self absorbed artst.

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