With a deeply Romantic vision for his art, Emil Nolde sought to express the primal and elemental forces of life through the creative process. Raised in a family of farmers in a rural area on the Danish-German border, he had been expected to carry on in this vocation but instead turned to furniture carving and, later, to painting. Through his art, however, he maintained a link to nature and the land.
Over the course of his career, Nolde made some five hundred prints in a consistently experimental manner during short periods of sustained activity. He learned the woodcut technique from the young artists of Brücke (Bridge), a group he joined briefly, working in a decidedly painterly fashion by brushing compositions onto woodblocks before carving them. The simplification and direct impact of his imagery are indebted to his study of tribal art.
In etching, breaking with picturesque conventions of the late-nineteenth century, Nolde created irregular tonal passages through unusual applications of acid to his printing plates, and formed bold masses of tangled lines and textures by scratching with a variety of tools. In his Hamburg Harbor series, he turned an industrial hub into a timeless metaphor for man’s impact on nature, all through the mysterious effects of his etching process. In lithography his interpretations of a young couple are neither abstract nor fully articulated. As his organically shaped figures merge with an indeterminate landscape, they embody Nolde’s fluid and intuitive technique as much as the psychological tensions between the sexes.
All of Nolde’s innovations in printmaking were carefully documented by the artist in an archive that was, tragically, destroyed when his Berlin studio was bombed in 1944. This event followed the confiscation of more than one thousand of his works from German museums during the Nazi purge of “degenerate” art.
Publication excerpt from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 60.