© Nolde Stiftung Seebüll


Lake Lucerne

ca. 1930

Watercolour on Japanese vellum
Inv. No. SG 2940

34 × 47 cm

zur  Biographie

Among the German artists of the twentieth century, Emil Nolde is one of the leading watercolourists. In this medium as well as in paintings and graphic works, he represented heads, couples and figures of fantasy, the flat marshlands of the Northern German coastal region, waves breaking on the seashore, the broad expanse of the sky, and also the flower gardens at the house and studio built in Seebüll in 1927. Watercolour was the sole medium used in a group of more than 1,300 small »Unpainted Pictures« dating from 1938 to 1945, with which – in the seclusion of Seebüll – he circumvented the National Socialist order imposed in 1941 prohibiting him from painting.


Throughout his life, Nolde’s watercolours reflected his impressions and memories of his many travels. Early examples thus record his experience of the exoticism of foreign parts when, in 1913/14, he accompanied a year-long expedition to the South Seas. This image of Lake Lucerne, on the other hand, is associated with a trip to Switzerland and was probably executed in around 1930. As always, however, this watercolour of a mountain lake and the surrounding landscape is far from being a naturalistic portrayal.


Not a single line is to be found in this composition, which has been executed purely in blue and yellow watercolour. The artist had to react quickly to distribute the transparent layers of colour over the dampened paper with his brush, employing a technique that offered no possibility of making corrections. It was the painting process itself that produced the fascinating reality of this picture, made up of colours which at the same time create form. Chance – an element for which watercolour painting provides a good deal of scope – was held in check by the artist. What may appear accidental and spontaneous is in fact shaped and arranged with a high degree of calculation.


The yellow sunlight is visible behind a blue mountain massif with snow-covered areas gleaming white where the bare paper shows through. The peak is hidden by the heavy horizontal band of cloud, in front of which dark, deep blue mountain ranges jut into the lake on both sides. Their reflections can be seen in the mysteriously shimmering blue of the water. Where blue and yellow threaten to intermingle, Nolde creates a transition to the reflections of the cold sunlight, which become more irregular in their course and gradually fade as they come closer to the foreground.


The essence of this composition lies in the tension between the subtle gradations of the two colours and the forms that develop from them – forms now merging, now mutually dissociative –, between blue that thrusts itself forward and yellow that recedes, between transparent and opaque, dark and light, cold and warm, and in the correspondence between above and below, left and right, far and near. From these polarities, referred to by Nolde as »duality«, has come harmony.

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