Theft of a Painting by Emil Nolde


Emil Nolde (1867-1956)
Christ at Emmaüs, 1904
Oil on canvas - 80 x 70 cm
Denmark, church of Ølstrup
Photo : D. R.

14/3/14 - Art theft - Denmark, Church of Olstrop - The theft was discovered last 11 March [1] : Christ at Emmaüs by Emil Nolde - a native of both Germany and Denmark [2] - disappeared from the church of Olstrup where it hung and for which it had been produced in 1904. At the time, Nolde was just starting his career as an independent artist, as explained by Andreas Fluck in the catalogue for the 2009 exhibition [3]. The commission, which he received from his wife’s (Ada) uncle was very precise, stating that the painter was to draw his inspiration from Rembrandt’s Pilgrims at Emmaüs which he saw at the Louvre during his stay in Paris in 1900.

Although the Bible, particularly the New Testament, plays an important role in Emil Nolde’s work, his interpretation, based on a primitive peasant faith, did not correspond to the aesthetic criteria of the clergy and their "sclerosed dogma", worlds apart. He took great care in personally defining the corpus of his religious paintings, drawing up a handwritten list of fifty-five works in 1951. Sylvain Amic [4] points out that the painting from the church in Olstrup is not in this list, no doubt because it was a commission, executed following set restrictions. According to the artist, The Last Supper was the first, followed by Pentecost, works produced in 1909, in which he defined a pictorial formula and an expressive power unique to his work, using disturbing masks instead of faces, adding violent and tormented colors. Later, he would move on to a simplification of forms and the use of large, bright color blocks.
In 1930, he had already overlooked his Christ at Emmaüs when writing to Hans Fehr : "Isn’t it strange that none of my religious paintings have found a home in a church ? [...] The Church has not carried out its task. [...]" He added that, when he was a child, he had promised God that when he grew up he would write Him a song for the Book of Songs. "I never kept my word, but I painted many pictures and no doubt more than thirty religious ones ; will they fulfill my promise ?" [5]
An Emil Nolde retrospective was recently inaugurated at the Städel Museum and will run from 5 March until 15 June 2014.

Version française


Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 14 mars 2014


Notes

[1] We were informed by a reader whom we would like to thank. The robbery was covered in the Danish press.

[2] The Treaty of Versailles changed the borders between the two countries. Nolde, Emil’s birthplace, became Danish. Moreover, the painter spent time in Denmark.

[3] "Emil Nolde de (1867-1956)", Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, from 25 September 2008 to 19 January 2009.

[4] Exhibition catalogue, p. 177.

[5] Exhibition catalogue, p. 133.



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