Emil Nolde

Portrait of a South Sea islander (en face)


With a photo expertise by Professor Dr. Manfred Reuther, Seebüll, dated 1.12.2014. This work is registered with the Nolde Stiftung, Seebüll. Provenance: Private collection, acquired in 1921, by descent to the previous owner (until 2015); Christie’s, London 5.2.2015, lot 224; Simon C. Dickinson Fine Art, London, with label on the back panel of the frame; private ownership, Great Britain.


• This imposing portrait of a woman wearing a necklace and earrings was painted during Nolde’s stay in Papua New Guinea
• Artistic testimony to Nolde’s longing for the primordial state of man
• The impressions from his travels continued to reflect in his colourful works even years after his return Emil Nolde and his wife Ada traveled via Moscow, Siberia, Korea, Japan and China to the South Seas to German New Guinea (now part of Papua New Guinea) in October 1913.

As unofficial participants in the “Medical-Demographic German New Guinea Expedition”, they were allowed to use all the amenities of the colonial infrastructure in the so-called “German protected areas”. During this journey, which lasted several months, Nolde created a large number of sketches, drawings and watercolours, which he would later use as a source of inspiration for his works. Nolde’s view of the locals was shaped by his colonial perspective and was not as open and unbiased as he might have hoped. The desire to escape one’s own culture and its social constraints was not fulfilled, because he always acted within the scope of the expedition and thus in the context of the white upper class. The couple’s return journey was frought with hardships and chaotic, unforeseen changes of plan due to the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. Nolde later dedicated a separate volume of memoirs, “World and Homeland” (1936/1965), to his South Sea voyage. Max Pechstein was also able to travel to the South Seas in 1913/14 thanks to the financial support of the Berlin art dealer Wolfgang Gurlitt. After his return, he published the lithograph series “South Sea (Palau)” in 1918. The works Pechstein and Nolde created during their travels, with exotic subjects, interesting portraits of locals and foreign landscapes, met with controversial responses in Germany; in some cases they were rejected with indignation and in others they were euphorically celebrated.

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