Project concept

For the first time Emil Nolde has been portrayed within the context of his creative process. Nolde’s paintings in Seebüll, Hamburg and Munich – as well as the extensive archive of the Nolde Foundation Seebüll –  served as primary sources for the collection of relevant art-technological data.

A comparative reading of visible and invisible traces of the paintings’ creative process was achieved by combining a visual and stereomicroscopic appraisal with the findings of modern imaging examination methods (such as X-radiography, infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence imaging), as well as special photographic techniques (such as UV fluorescence or grazing light) and interpreted within an interdisciplinary context. In tracing the correlation between painting technique and pictorial effect in Nolde’s painting, emphasis was placed on the following: the choice and effect of the weave of a canvas, the unique characteristcs of his grounds, the changing techniques of his compositional arrangements and, above all, his differentiated and masterly use of paint. Later means used by the artist, such as changes of format or the reworking of his paintings, for example, were also examined more precisely.

The chemical composition of the pigments and binders was determined by means of non-destructive material analyses directly on the paintings, supplemented by laboratory methods on small samples. Detailed studies of Nolde’s preferred painting material from the company Fritz Behrendt and comparative examinations of tube paint and other studio materials from the artist’s estate provide a clear picture of Nolde’s palette.

At the same time, the holdings of data in the archives of the Nolde Foundation Seebüll were evaluated in the search for technologically relevant material: the extensive archive on the artist (correspondence, self-testimonies, statements by others, invoices, etc.) provides a wealth of information on Nolde’s concrete working practices.

Through a combination of archival research, technological findings and scientific analyses, a deep understanding of Nolde’s differentiated, obviously conscious use of painting materials and their translation into pictorial effects over a creative period of fifty years has been gained. The results of this research are being made accessible to a broad museum audience and to specialists.