Painting of the Day

11 Jun

Wheat Field. by Emil Nolde (1867-1956). Watercolor on paper, circa 1900. Currently belongs to a private collection.

Notes from 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die:

Emil Nolde came to painting at the age of forty after first studying woodcarving and working as a furniture designer and then teaching ornamental drawing. Born on a farm in Schleswig, Germany, his early paintings were fantastical rural landscapes, with mountains humanized as giant trolls, which once published gave him the financial dependence to study painting full time. Nolde attended art schools from 1898 and 1901 and also spent time with the Dachau “landscapists” so was still studying when he executed Wheat Field in 1900. Here, a dark, dense ground of deep blue is shot through with vivid flashes of gold from right and left, which direct the viewer’s eye to the earth itself and a vision of a home illuminated in shocking scarlet. Nolde strongly felt that color could evoke emotional responses and he was a great admirer of the work of Manet, Cezanne, Munch, and the French Symbolists. “I had an infinite number of visions at this time, for wherever I turned my eyes nature, the sky, the clouds were alive… and they aroused my enthusiasm as well as tormented me with demands that I paint them.” Wheat Field, bathed in ethereal light, shows an almost spiritual connection to the landscape. This is a theme to which Nolde was to return many times. It demonstrates his aim to transform nature by infusing it with a sense of emotional expression. In 1906 he asked to become a member of the German Expressionist group, Die Brucke (The Bridge), which he joined briefly. He is considered one of the great watercolor painters of the twentieth century.

My comments:

It’s a shame that I could not find a better internet image of this painting. All of the colors are much more faded in this digitized image compared to the one that appears in 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die. And in this case the richness of the colors really matters to capture and understand the expressiveness of this painting. I absolutely agree with Nolde that “color could evoke emotional responses.” I would go even further and say that not only can color evoke emotional responses, but it simply does by its very nature. Even duller, faded colors evoke emotional responses. Color is one of my favorite elements in painting for the fact that it wields immense potential for expression in a painting. In this painting, the way that Nolde has applied the watercolor to the canvas gives the image a dreamy quality, and it is difficult to discern exactly what we’re looking at in the painting. The blue that dominates the right side of the foreground of the painting, with a yellow streak that cuts through it, looks like it could be the ocean, but it could also be grass. But no  matter what it’s supposed it be, it is captivating simply by virtue of its color, with a deepness that pulls your eyes in and almost feels like it’s never going to let go.

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