Emil Nolde - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • “They are such calm and beautiful hours when one sits or moves about between the fragrant and blossoming flowers; I really wish to give my pictures something of this beauty…”
    —Emil Nolde
    Emil Nolde’s Iris, 1916, is a vibrant painting of deep purple irises, accented by a flash of scarlet poppies. Nolde’s vigorous, German Expressionist brushstroke and strong sense of color create a gorgeous contrast between the turquoise stalks of the titular irises and the rich, jewel-toned blossoms above and below. The impasto of the vermillion soil and emerald underbrush is almost wet, as if the flowers have been freshly watered. With the majority of Nolde’s floral paintings as later watercolor works, Iris is a rare and early oil painting, which reveals the central role that the flowering countryside of Northern Germany played in the development of Nolde’s Expressionist idiom.


    Born and raised on a farm in the frontier of Northern Germany, close to Denmark, Nolde spent his childhood surrounded by flora and fauna. He held particularly fond memories of his mother’s garden, and would plant his own garden at every home he lived in, for the rest of his life. 1916 was an important year of transition for Nolde as a gardener, as he and his wife moved from their cottage on Als Island to a new home in nearby Utenwarf, where Nolde immediately set to work planting a garden. Iris dates to this period of transition and renewed vigor in floral painting, as Nolde took in the “higher, fresher air,” and “harsher and stronger beauty” of the west coast at Utenwarf. The emotional intensity Nolde associated with the landscape of Utenwarf translates into the depth of color and strength of brushstroke in Iris. The diagonals of the composition—along the heads of the irises, and up the stems of their stalks—reflect, too, the topography of Nolde’s garden at Utenwarf; the garden, “a tiny piece of paradise,” as he described it, “grew particularly well and had an amazing richness of flowers due to its position at a diagonal from the sun.” 


    Emil Nolde, Blue and Violet Flowers, 1916. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Nolde Stiftung Seebüll

    For Nolde, the significance of his garden to his art practice was not merely limited to representational paintings of flowers like Iris; throughout his career, and particularly in his most radical and innovative early German Expressionist years, Nolde sought to incorporate the brightness, freshness, and vivacity of spirit he found in the garden into all of his paintings, regardless of subject matter. Indeed, his floral paintings played a pivotal role in his development of the vibrant, dynamic painting style that earned him an invitation to join the avant-garde group Die Brücke. Nolde discovered color as his own individual means of expression via the flower paintings he created on Als Island in 1906; acceptance by Die Brücke came that same year, and some of his best-known and most innovative paintings soon followed. One could argue that the two aspects of his practice, floral and Expressionist, are inseparable strands of one avant-garde pursuit.


    Nolde’s acutely attuned relationship to the natural world, and the richness of color and form within it, had a direct effect on his skills as an Expressionist painter, particularly towards his ability to imbue color and brushstroke with emotional intensity. “Even the purely fantastic is somehow also attached to nature,” Nolde wrote. Nolde had such a visceral reaction to the colors of the natural world, that he could not help but incorporate them into his work. “The color of the flowers drew me magnetically to them,” he said, “and suddenly I was painting.”



    i Manfield Reuther, “’Greetings from our young garden’—Emil Nolde’s Gardens and his Flower Paintings,” in Reuther, et al., Emil Nolde: Mein Garten voller Blumen (My Garden full of Flowers), Nolde Stiftung; DuMont, Cologne, 2009, pp. 22, 26.

    ii  Ibid., p. 26.

    iii  Emil Nolde, quoted ibid.

    iv  Ibid., p. 27.

    v  Reuther, p. 23.

    vi  Nolde, quoted ibid., p. 19.

    vii  Reuther, p. 23.

    viii Nolde, quoted ibid., p. 24.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice https://www.phillips.com/auctions/auction/NY011123

    • Provenance

      Paul Rickmers, Hamburg (acquired directly from the artist in 1918)
      Private Collection, Hamburg (by descent from the above)
      Christie's, London, November 28, 1988, lot 44
      Coubertin de Helo, Portugal (acquired at the above sale)
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

    • Exhibited

      Hannover, Kestner Gesellschaft, Emil Nolde: Gemälde, Graphik, January 6–February 6, 1918, no. 60
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Meer dan kleur. Fauvisme en expressionisme uit de collectie van de Triton Foundation, April 11–September 6, 2009, pp. 17-18 (illustrated, p. 17)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 207, 557 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Martin Urban, Emil Nolde: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil-Paintings. Volume Two 1915-1951, London, 1990, no. 734, pp. 117, 617 (illustrated, p. 117)




signed "Nolde" lower right; signed and titled “Emil Nolde “Iris”” on the stretcher
oil on canvas
35 5/8 x 27 3/4 in. (90.5 x 70.5 cm)
Painted in 1916.

Full Cataloguing

$500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for $482,600

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023