Sunday, June 21, 2009

Nolde's "The Mulatto"

I've always admired Emil Nolde's "The Mulatto, " which he painted in 1913, and went to see it again on Friday at the Sackler Museum at Harvard.  I like the cheeky quality of the subject, her vitality, the cocked head, arched eyebrows, and bright red lips, the pinkish browns, the blacks within a halo of orange-yellow.  Circular shapes: face, headband, hair, halo.

Nolde joined the Nazi party, I've learned, and believed in racial purity. Did he hold these ideas in 1913 when he painted "The Mulatto"?  I don't know. Do you think his portrayal of the woman is ambivalent?  The colors are discordant--but they are in most of his work.

The Nazis branded him a degenerate artist and tried to stop him from painting.  He worked in secret.  Did he change his mind about racial purity?  I don't know.  I'll have to find out more about him.  After the war, he was awarded the German Order of Merit, the country's highest civilian honor.


  1. I am not aware of having heard of this guy, though I recognise the painting. His dreadful politics aside, I wouldn't mind this hanging in my living room!

  2. NMJ: I could live with this painting, too! So much life in it.

  3. The funny thing about racism is that there are degrees. Many who joined the fascists in Germany and Italy were alienated and regretful when they found out how far the Nazis would go. So between the philosemite (I know this word exists) and the death camp murderer there are many gradations of virtue and vice. But apart for all the chatter about good and evil, my own habit is to look at the work itself. I can love the work and hate the artist. I seem to be aligned with NMJ and Mim on this, just more long-winded.

  4. Yes, Bluedog, it's not simple. Some say were are all racists; for instance, in a milder form, under certain conditions we revert to stereotypes. 'Oh, you know how those________ are,' we say. But when I look at a painting like "The Mulatto," I have a fresh response. The painting itself is so fresh.