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Emil Nolde. A German Legend. The Artist during the Nazi Regime

12.04.2019 to 15.09.2019
Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart

The Expressionist Emil Nolde (1867–1956) is arguably the most famous “degenerate artist”. No other artist had as many works confiscated, nor were their works as prominently displayed in the early venues of the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition of 1937/38. 

How does Nolde’s ostracism and professional ban fit with our knowledge that he was a Nazi Party member, and that he kept faith with the regime until the end of the war? The art critic Adolf Behne underlined Nolde’s special status on the occasion of the artist’s eightieth birthday in 1947, by pointedly referring to him as a “degenerate ‘degenerate’”. It has long been known that Emil Nolde was a party member. Yet no previous exhibition has thoroughly examined how this relates to his art, or how the historical circumstances during National Socialism affected his artistic production.

Noldes Seebüll in the exhibition

The exhibition Emil Nolde – A German Legend. The Artist during the Nazi Regime is based on the results of a multi-year academic research project which for the first time was able to analyse the extensive holdings of the Nolde estate in Seebüll, uncovering so much new material that the conventional Nolde narrative must be revised. Thus, for example, the exhibition will present the famous “Unpainted Pictures” – the smallformat watercolours Nolde was reputed to have secretly painted at Seebüll during his occupational ban – in a completely new light, explaining them as part of long-standing practice of self-stylisation.

Over 100 new originals shown

The exhibition presents over 100 originals, some of which have not previously been shown, with references to Nolde’s writings and in the historical context of their creation, in order to reveal the multi-layered relationships between paintings, the artist’s self-presentation, his ostracism, and development of his legend.

  • What impact did the ‘Third Reich’ have on Emil Nolde’s artistic work?
  • To what extent do some of his works, such as his depictions of mythic sacrificial scenes or ‘Nordic’ people, correspond with his sympathies for the regime?
  • What effects did Nolde’s defamation and professional ban have on his artistic practice and political outlook?
  • And how did the myths about Nolde develop in the post-war period?

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a reconstruction of the ‘painting gallery’ in Nolde’s studio house in Seebüll, a display of paintings and watercolours just as the ageing artist himself arranged them during the wartime winter of 1941/42. 

An exhibition by the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, in cooperation with the Nolde Foundation Seebüll, curated by Bernhard Fulda, Christian Ring and Aya Soika, made possible by the Freunde der Nationalgalerie and supported by the Friede Springer Stiftung. 

Waiting Times and Timed Tickets

Please be aware: Due to the high volume of interested visitors, some delays to view the exhibition can be expected. We recommend that you allow sufficient time for your visit to the exhibition, especially in the afternoon. Thank you for your understanding.

Single admission tickets for the exhibition Emil Nolde are being sold as timed tickets (available online and at cash registers). Access to the exhibition can currently not be guaranteed for day pass holders (day ticket for one museum).


On the occasion of the exhibition a catalogue including numerous coloured images and essays is being published by Prestel Verlag. The exhibition catalogue was made possible thanks to financing from the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius as well as the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung.

Brücke Painters in the Nazi Period at the Brücke-Museum

In parallel the Brücke-Museum organizes the exhibition Escape into Art? The Brücke Painters in the Nazi Period (April 14th to August 11th 2019) which deals with the artistic practices of Erich Heckel, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff as well as their personal situation during the ‘Third Reich’. Visitors of both exhibitions will be able to situate the case of Emil Nolde within a wider context by considering the art and careers of his former Brücke colleagues (and vice versa).

Neue Galerie

The exhibition will take place in what is known as the ‘Neue Galerie’. The ‘Neue Galerie’ in Hamburger Bahnhof is serving as an annexe for the Neue Nationalgalerie until its renovations are complete. Temporary exhibitions consisting of excerpts from the museum's collection of early twentieth century art are presented here. The ‘Neue Galerie’ opened with “The Black Years. Histories of a Collection: 1933–1945” (2015), and then presented exhibitions on Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (2016), Rudolph Belling (2017) and Otto Mueller (2018).

Udo Kittelmann, Director of the Nationalgalerie
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / Juliane Eirich
The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Welcome More than 4 Million Visitors in 2019
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Photo: David von Becker
Udo Kittelmann, Director of the Nationalgalerie
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / Juliane Eirich
Paul Klee, 1939, coloured paste and pencil on paper, mounted on cardboard, detail
© Private collection, Switzerland, Depositum im Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern
Emil Nolde, Paradise Lost, 1921, Oil on rough canvas (sackcloth)
© Nolde Stiftung Seebüll / Fotowerkstatt Elke Walford and Dirk Dunkelberg

Invalidenstraße 50 - 51
10557 Berlin

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Access to the Rieckhallen is currently not barrier-free. Please contact the information desk at the ticket office if necessary.

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Related Links

Museum and the City: Emil Nolde im Hamburger Bahnhof: „Deutsch, stark, herb und innig“ on the blog of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (German only)

Catalogue in the webshop

Catalog with historical documents about Nolde (German only)