With her legs splayed, arms fluttering, and hair streaming, Nolde’s ecstatic dancer represents a joyful embodiment of all that he and other Expressionists most passionately celebrated: instinctual, unfettered emotion, erotic energy, and spiritual freedom. This image, in a primeval setting, was inspired by modern experimental dance, of which Nolde was an aficionado, and by the artist’s fascination with “primitive” non-European cultures, which he thought to possess an authenticity not present in European culture.
Gallery label from German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, March 27–July 11, 2011.
A dancer moves ecstatically, her fluttering skirt barely covering her body. For Nolde her nakedness and unabashed sexuality tapped into primal instincts, signaling an authentic form of expression and a harmony with the natural world, removed from the decadence of urban dance halls. Yet two sketchily rendered figures to the left, behind the flaming torch, place the performance within the voyeuristic context of the German stage.
Tänzerin (Dancer) was the last of thirteen prints Nolde made during eight weeks he spent at the Westphalen lithography workshop, in Flensburg, in 1913. In these prints he experimented with unorthodox ways of using color to create many variants of the same image. The surprising results of what he termed his “audacious stupidities” delighted him as he pulled the works from the press. Nolde called Tänzerin his favorite; a wholly imaginary scene, it expressed all his “passion and joy.”
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.