The artist Emil Nolde (1867-1956) was and is one of the best known Expressionist artists in Germany. His nine panel-painting “The Life of Christ” from 1911/12 caused a scandal, being a painting with a religious theme, in which simplified forms and expressionist colors were used. It is this painting that surely encouraged Fritz Ascher to paint “Golgatha” in 1915.
Nolde’s personal biography only now came fully to light, because he actively and creatively doctored his own story, which was continued to be told by the foundation that managed his estate. Since 2013, the foundation has a new director, who discovered thousands of documents that were locked away – documents that prove that Nolde was a convinced Nazi and fierce Antisemite, up to the last day of Hitler’s life. With the capitulation of Germany in 1945, he immediately and successfully changed his story, victimizing himself, and as such becoming one of the most celebrated “degenerate’ artist in post-war Germany, supported by prominent art historians, museums and the art market.
Parts of that story were known for many years, but now the exhibition “Emil Nolde. A German Legend. The Artist during the Third Reich” at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum for Contemporary Art (until September 15) tells this story in detail, supported by the newly accessible documents.
In many ways, his is a typical story, which applies to many German citizens. Maybe this was the reason for Angela Merkel to immediately take down the two Nolde paintings that were hanging in her office, now leaving her walls blank. Which is a shame, because German history is German history, and Emil Nolde – even though his personal opinions and decisions are morally and ethically highly questionable – created great art.
Also in Berlin, the Brücke Museum, in cooperation with Kunsthaus Dahlem, shows “Escape into Art? The Brücke Painters in the Nazi Period” (until August 11). Again initiated by a new director, this is the first critical and detailed examination of the artistic practice, scope and everyday life of the former Brücke artists Schmidt-Rottluff, Heckel, Pechstein and Kirchner during the Nazi period.
Hopefully, this re-assessment will continue, and the new generation of art historians, curators and cultural leaders is strong enough to finally write a more truthful and complex art history of 20th century Germany.
I’ll conclude with this hope, wishing everyone a wonderful summer!
All best wishes,
Rachel Stern, Director and CEO
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artwork Fritz Ascher ©2019 Bianca Stock, Photo Malcolm Varon
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artwork Fritz Ascher ©2018 Bianca Stock, Photo Malcolm Varon