EMILE NOLDE – expressionist

It is the flattest landscape I’ve yet seen, the road to Seëbull, on the border between Germany and Denmark.  The roads are arrows; the poplar trees that line them are organ pipes.  The Free State is mountainous, by comparison. Here, in Seëbull, we find the Emile Nolde Foundation, a building in the style of the Bauhaus, which Nolde designed as his home in the 1920s.

                  The Emile Nolde Foundation

                   Emile Nolde, 1929

Today it is an art gallery, surrounded by gardens, also his design.  The spacious gallery displays a hearty number of his works.

                    Self-portrait, 1917

He was an expressionist, part of a movement that was paralleled by the Fauves in France, a movement that was suppressed by the Nazis in the late-1930s.  In this regard there is a painful irony in the life of Emile Nolde.

                Red and yellow sunflowers, 1920

In the chaos and bitterness after the First World War, he was attracted to the new political party of the Nazis, with anti-semitism to boot.  But after they had taken power in 1933, Nolde found himself officially declared as a “decadent” artist, with over a thousand of his works confiscated. Some were displayed in the exhibition of Entartete Kunst in 1937 to be mocked.

   Poster for the 1937 exhibition

The Nazis forbid him to do any further painting, but he worked on in secret.  These works he called his “unpainted paintings”.

“The Argument” – one of the unpainted paintings 1938 – 1945

After the war the honour Emile Nolde deserved was restored.  He died in 1956 at the age of 89.

     The Prophet, etching, 1911

For me his work touches abstraction at times, a characteristic mode of modernist painting.  The planes of colour surprise.  His human figures, most often earthy, even childlike and primitive, sabre the painting traditions away.  What he does sometimes moves under a dark cloud.

          “Landscape with young horses”, 1916

His painting is not detailed.  His spirit shatters that.  His world bursts open, full and rich.  His paintbrush is broad, as a landscape.

                          “Underway”, 19 –


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017



Wikipedia :  Emile Nolde



The gallery – Emile Nolde-Stift

Photo – Emile Nolde-Stift

Red and yellow sunflowers – PerformArts

Self-portrait – PerformArts

“Entartete Kunst”-poster – Nolde Stift

Prophet etching – PerformArts

“Underway” – PerformArts








ROMANESQUE AND GOTHIC – the human figure

 The human figure in a Romanesque church is small, stylized and, if you look, you see they are busy with something specific in their lives – they drive out demons or flee to Egypt on the back of a donkey.  Bernwards Portal, Hildesheim, Germany, illustrates this memorably.

Bernwards Portal: God gives Eve to Adam

The intention of the sculptor, probably prescribed by the church, is educational and illustrative.  Incidents from the Bible are portrayed.  What strikes me, is how childlike the figures are, almost as if the communities they were intended for, were childlike, eight, nine centuries after Christ.  It is a Europe rising from the shadows of the Dark Ages.  It is as if the search for form is breaking from the post-Roman world, from the world of Byzantine (400 – 600 a.d.).

Romanesque capital: the strange and the charming

There is Eastern influence in the form of the Romanesque figure of the human – monsters, devils and decorative motifs.  Some of the scenes portrayed in Romanesque are deliberately dramatic.  An example is Judas hanging himself.  The incredible variety of figures and forms suggest that sculptors were often left to their own devices.  The world of Romanesque figures is one of surprises.


Romanesque – a world of surprises

The churches with their rounded arches are to a human scale.  What they built, was houses of God, not cathedrals.  The pillars, the panels of art, everything is within easy reach, with you.

The wind changes direction from the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Western culture.  It is a renewal that would, in the centuries to come, be reborn in different forms.  The need to make a greater statement with churches yielded to the concept of cathedrals of monumental dimensions.

Notre Dame de Paris – monument to Gothic

This is Gothic.  Even today contemporary architects stand amazed by what was achieved.  So too, the form of human figure changed.

Chartres Cathedral Portal

I am referring specifically to the portals of Notre Dame in Paris and Chartres Cathedral.  Here the human figures lose their caprice.  Now the figures, as part of the new architecture, form a uniform community of believers, rather than individual figures busy with something specific.  The figures stand formally next to one another.  The vertical line dominates in the design.  The figures are static in their ecstasy.  They are focused on the coming life, a choir of figures untroubled by this world.  My interest comes from limited experience, but I will not forget the figures of the portals of Chartres – stone that radiates.

A radiance from stone


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017




Bernwards Portal – studyblue.com

Romanesque capitals 1, 2  –  Pinterest

Notre Dame de Paris – sacred-destination.com

Chartres Portal and detail – chartrescathedral.net




France, Germany  




It was the year 1972.  My wife and I drove from the border between West and East Germany on the highways built by Hitler in the 1930s.  The surface was badly pockmarked.  All around the landscape of East Germany seemed to be lying fallow to us, in contrast to West Germany where every inch was manicured.

West Berlin, an island behind the iron curtain, was a vital, progressive city with much of interest.  We’d planned to see East Berlin as well.

The Wall museum on the western side was an experience of triumph and tragedy honouring those who had tried to escape East Berlin.

Monument for those who attempted escape

Monument for those who attempted escape

At Checkpoint Charlie, the crossover point, we passed the guard in his American uniform sitting behind a comic book.  He hardly looked up.

Then, the no-mans-land … an unforgiving strip with steel x’s, thick rolls of barbed wire, and the Wall, a metre thick and, in some places, four metres high.  And this is where there had been the belle époque promenade Unten den Linden before the war.

Nomansland, Berlin Wall

                    No-mans-land, Berlin Wall

We gingerly trod the narrow path amongst the rolls of barbed wire, most aware of the machine guns trained on us from faceless watch towers.  On the east side of the crossover, a phalanx of border guards surrounded us, checking our passports with suspicious efficiency.  We too, were checked.

I remember East Berlin as broad, deserted streets with charcoaled ruins from the war, twenty-seven years before, here and there, the badly-lit museums and the slogans, not a corner without them.

Graffiti, a cross and the Wall

                   Graffiti, a cross and the Wall

I’ll admit :  when I left East Berlin it was with a grossly-simplified notion that this system was not an alternative economy;  it was a machinegun.

Seventeen years later the Wall came to a fall and soon after, the Soviet Union splintered.  In 2014 the Germans celebrated a quarter of a century without the Wall, as well as the reunion of the country.  Pieces of the Wall at the time were given to various countries, including South Africa.  It is exhibited on St George’s Mall in Cape Town.

A message to South Africa

                          A message to South Africa

The experience of the Berlin Wall shook me.  Today it disturbs me to hear of a leader somewhere who builds, or threatens to build, a wall to solve political differences.

                                        Something there is that doesn’t love a wall  ̶   Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Drawing by Walter Hanel

                       Drawing by Walter Hanel


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016



Monument  –  urbaneukraine.wordpress.com

No-mans-land  –  gedenkstaette.de

Wall, cross and graffiti  –  dreamstime.com

Piece of Wall  –  mashable.com

Drawing  –  ros.sarosedesign.com




NEFERTITI – “The Beautiful One cometh”

 You can stand next to her, as I did 40 years ago in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.   It was a rare privilege for me then and I ask, Did I appreciate it?  What would such appreciation actually mean?

In the presence ...

                         In the presence …

I remember hearing that German archaeologists were no longer welcome in Egypt  ̶  they had made off with this prime patrimony, but, as with the Elgin Marbles, the Germans stood fast.

T.S. Eliot told us that art doesn’t improve.  Painters, sculptors, frieze-makers before and since the Egyptian millennia have not again achieved what the Egyptians so richly attained  ̶  the integrated balance between stylized and naturalistic expression.  Nowhere is this achievement as striking as it is in the Nefertiti bust, made around 1350 B.C.

I do remember thinking how contemporary the beauty of this figure is.  Even now, in 2016, I can easily find a comparison in someone like Angeline Jolie in Hollywood.  But Nefertiti is more elegant, stronger and yes, stylized.  There is energy in the features, a characteristic of so much Egyptian art.  What is the precedent for that energy?


The closest for me is the art of the Khoi-San people of Africa.  The depictions of animals in their rock art are amongst the most accurate, naturalistic in art history and they are static.  The human figures, stylized, stride across Africa and beyond.  There is energy.  In Egyptian art this polarity becomes one.

Rock art, Castellon, Spain

Egyptian soldiers

                             Egyptian soldiers

To get poetic, Nefertiti is for me what a goddess could look like.  Yet that visage is sensual.  She is with us, keeping a magnetic distance.  She gazes out over the heads of people, the landscapes, the curve of the earth.  Mona Lisa looks at you and is there a smile?  A smaller world, and, as much as she intrigues me, she doesn’t turn me on.

So, do I appreciate Nefertiti?  Does anybody?  How can we appreciate someone so heavenly, so earthy?

The profile


© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016


Bust – internaute.com

Bust  ̶  femmecelebres.com

Egyptian soldiers ̶  nilewavetravel.wordpress.com

Rock art, Castellon, Spain (source lost)

Profile – kingtutone.com



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