Lake Lucerne, Emil Nolde
Emil Nolde
Lake Lucerne
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Emil Nolde

Lake Lucerne, 1931 – 1934

340 x 470 mm
Physical Description
Watercolour on Japanese wove paper
Inventory Number
SG 2940
Object Number
SG 2940 Z
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

Emil Nolde is considered to be one of the leading watercolourists in German art of the twentieth century. He used this medium, and also paintings and prints, to portray heads, couples and fantasy figures and to depict the flat, marshy landscape of the North German coast, the sea surf and the expanse of the sky, as well as the flower gardens of his studio house in Seebüll, which he had built in 1927. His more than 1,300 small "Unpainted Pictures" were created exclusively in the watercolour technique in Seebüll.

Throughout Nolde's life his watercolours reflected the impressions and memories of his many journeys. Early examples report of his experience of foreign exoticism, when the artist accompanied a one-year expedition to the South Seas in 1913/14. "Lake Lucerne", on the other hand, is associated with a journey to Switzerland and must have been painted around 1930. But as always, this watercolour landscape of a mountain lake is also not a naturalistic depiction of nature.

There is not a single line in this composition of blues and yellows. Executed entirely in watercolour, the artist had to react quickly in order to distribute the colours across the damp paper with his brush, if possible without correction. It was during the design process that this fascinating reality arose of a picture consisting of colours which at the same time provide the forms. The artist retained control over the element of chance, for which there is plenty of scope in watercolour painting. What may seem random and spontaneous has been designed and arranged with a high degree of calculation. The yellow light of the sun appears behind a blue mountain massif - the snow-covered zones indicated by the unpainted white areas of the paper. Covering the peak is a dense horizontal field of clouds, in front of which the dark, deep blue mountain range juts out into the lake on both sides and is reflected in the mysteriously iridescent blue of the water. At the bottom of the sheet, where the blue and yellow threaten to run into each other, Nolde transitions to the reflections of the cold sunlight, which fade out towards the foreground in an irregular progression.

This composition lives from the charged relationship between the nuances of two colours and the forms which grow out of them, join together and move apart: advancing blue and withdrawing yellow, transparent and dense, dark and light, cold and warm, a correspondence between above and below, between left and right, between far and near. The polarities, or "duality" as Nolde called it, have given way to harmony.

About the Acquisition

From 1900 onwards, the Frankfurt chemist and industrialist Carl Hagemann (1867‒1940) assembled one of the most important private collections of modern art. It included numerous paintings, drawings, watercolours and prints, especially by members of the artist group “Die Brücke”. After Carl Hagemann died in an accident during the Second World War, the then Städel director Ernst Holzinger arranged for Hagemann’s heirs to evacuate his collection with the museum’s collection. In gratitude, the family donated almost all of the works on paper to the Städel Museum in 1948. Further donations and permanent loans as well as purchases of paintings and watercolours from the Hagemann estate helped to compensate for the losses the museum had suffered in 1937 as part of the Nazi’s “Degenerate Art” campaign. Today, the Hagemann Collection forms the core of the Städel museum’s Expressionist collection.

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