A fascination for the primordial expressivity of non–European art and culture forms an integral constituent of Emil Nolde's creativity. The artist integrates artefacts of African, Oceanic or far–Eastern provenance predominantly into his still–lifes, often featuring exotic masks, carved wooden figures or quotidian utensils. Nolde's enthusiasm for the distinct aesthetic and enigmatic aura of so–called "primitive" art first found expression in around 1910/11 and culminated in his voyage to the South Seas, which he and his wife Ada undertook as members of a medical and anthropological expedition to Papua New Guinea. On the outward journey they stopped off in China in November 1913, where the couple visited shrines and Nolde purchased a number of art objects which he promptly sent back to Germany. The Chinese figure featured in this present gouache most probably derives from the treasures he acquired during this legendary voyage – one, which was to exert an enduring influence on Nolde's life and work. Similarly, the Japanese paper on which he executed his water–colour, may also have been purchased during his stay in China. Over the course of time, Nolde assembled a comprehensive collection of non–European art objects, which came to assume great importance within his private sphere and proved to be a continual source of artistic inspiration. This small–format sheet depicts a narrow close–up of a standing bronze figure shimmering evocatively under the large yellow blossoms against a dark backdrop. The flowers and sculpture unite to form a vibrant ensemble in which the radiance of the overhanging flower heads – probably coneflowers – enhance the sensual and exotic atmosphere of the motif, which is shrouded by bluish–violet shadows. In the right foreground we see the cropped, voluminous outline of a blue ceramic vase on whose shining surface the yellow florets are reflected, thus generating a second optical counterpoint to the bronze hue of the Chinese figure. In a manner typical of his light–intensive and colour–rich painting style, Nolde exploits the characteristic properties of the water– and body colours. His rapidly applied brush strokes emphasise the free–flowing colours, with the complex tonal gradations and transparent multilayering of surface and form lending the representation an immediate freshness and expressive lightness. As frequently observed in his still–lifes, Emil Nolde juxtaposes here the exotic and the familiar, as he seeks to forge a strident and emotionally satisfying dialogue between the new and the unknown of Chinese figure art and the familiarity of the lush flower gardens adorning his bucolic north–German countryside.
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