Monday, February 15, 2010

Picture of the Week No.11 - Emil Nolde

Any collection of prints is always going to be strong on powerful black and white images. The limitations this one-ink process puts on the artist often leads to imaginitive uses of tone, line, and mark making to convey their ideas. This weeks picture does just that and is one of three Emile Nolde prints in the collection. The Inner Harbour, Hamburg is an atmospheric, scratchy and smoky image of an industrial city 100 years ago. KP

Emil NOLDE (1867-1956)
Hamburg, Binnenhafen (The Inner Harbour, Hamburg), 1910

etching, 30.5 × 40.5 cm
inscribed: Emil Nolde

Accession No.: P.770
PROVENANCE: Private German collection; Purchased from Hildegard Fritz-Denneville, Fine Arts Ltd, London with the aid of a grant from the V&A/M.G.C. Purchase Grant Fund, January 1992.
REFERENCES: G. Schiefler, Emil Nolde: Das Graphische Werk I – Etchings, II, 1995; C. Ackley, The Painter’s Prints, pp.173-4, 1995; P. Gilmour, Great Prints of the Century: From Picasso to Hockney, pp.9 & 56, 1999.
EXHIBITIONS: Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire County Museum, Great Prints of the Century: From Picasso to Hockney, 1999.
NOTES: II/II from a total of 12 printed on wove paper by Genthe, Sabo, Berlin.

This print comes from a series of etchings and woodcuts dedicated to Hamburg Harbour where Nolde staged his most ambitious and successful retrospective exhibition of paintings in 1910. The harbour had attracted artists since the end of the nineteenth century and, by 1910, had become an international port.

Gustav Schiefler, his Hamburg patron and cataloguer, suggested that Nolde was motivated to produce a series of prints, drawings and paintings representing the commercial activity of the harbour and its surroundings because he felt indebted to the city for his success. In Nolde’s own words, these etchings ‘had din and roar, tumult and smoke and life, but only little sun’ (p.174, Ackley, 1995). The Inner Harbour is the final print produced for the Hamburg series. Its rarity is due the fact that the Nazis confiscated many of Nolde’s works and more were lost when his studio was destroyed during the Second World War.

Such is the immediacy of the series, that it is thought that Nolde etched the designs directly onto the plate. According to his friend, Hans Fehr, armed with paper and steel plates (copper was too expensive and Nolde preferred the hardness of the steel), Nolde would march out ‘into the uproar and confusion of the harbour’ (p.174 Ackley, 1995). Travelling about in the packed boats, and sitting amongst the dock machinery, Nolde would work constantly, drawing with whatever came to hand, until the evening when he would process his plates within no more than three hours to achieve the correct amount of acid bite and depth of image. In total, Nolde produced about 200 graphic works on the theme of the harbour, all of which were exhibited at Commeter in Hamburg in 1910. It was Nolde’s success during this year that prompted Schiefler to produce a catalogue of his printed works.

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