German expressionist painter and graphic artist.
The son of a farmer, Emil Hansen changed his name in 1904 to that of his birthplace, Nolde, in Schleswig. After teaching at the School of Industrial Design in St Gallen (1882–88), he worked and studied in Munich, Dachau, and (from 1900) Paris and Copenhagen. The influence of Van Gogh's works can be seen in the bright colours and thick expressive brush strokes in his series of garden paintings (1907–08), but in his figure compositions his violent handling of colour and characterization reflects his inclination towards the grotesque. Although he was briefly a member of the Brücke group of artists after settling in Berlin in 1906, Nolde has been described as ‘the great solitary of German expressionism’. His most outstanding works are his large religious pictures of 1909–12 (for example, Dance Round the Golden Calf, 1910); these were followed by figure compositions of rowdy low-life scenes painted with a barbaric sensuality reflecting his passionate temperament and belief in expression above accuracy.
Nolde's admiration of primitive art's ‘concentrated often grotesque expression of force and vitality in the simplest possible form’ led him to Polynesia in 1913–14, and primitive ‘stylized, rhythmical, and decorative’ qualities are apparent in such works as The Dancers (1920). Though best known for his figure compositions, Nolde also painted landscapes, and during World War II – when he was forbidden to paint by the Nazis – he produced small comparatively mild water-colours in secret.