A 'win-win' that yielded very many losers
Vic Parkinson, ASOPA registrar, dies at 93

German painter captured images of Rabaul


EMIL NOLDE (1867-1956) is probably a name unknown to most readers of PNG Attitude.

Indeed his name was unknown to me until I saw one of his paintings, created in Rabaul, on Sunday at Melbourne’s National Art Gallery.

Nolde was a famed German expressionist painter, son of peasant farmers, who grew up making models and covering boards and barn doors with chalk drawings.

In the years before World War I, he had become a well known and controversial figure in the German art world.

The relevance of Nolde to PNG Attitude lies in the time he spent in the New Guinea Islands in 1913-14.

Self Portrait 1907 In 1913, Nolde was invited by the German Colonial Office to take part in an expedition to the German territories in the South Pacific – one of which was German New Guinea, with headquarters in Rabaul.

The object of the expedition was to search for the causes of epidemics and high mortality among the indigenous population of the German colony. Nolde joined as ‘ethnographic artist’.

He and his wife Ada travelled through Asia to Palau and Rabaul, where he remained for half a year. In 1914 he made trips to Neu Mecklenburg (New Ireland) and the Admiralty Islands (Manus) before heading back to Germany.

He was particularly struck by the people of Rabaul, saying: “These people are at one with nature, and a part of the whole universe. I sometimes feel as if only they are still real people, we but kind of warped mannequins, artificial and full of conceit.”

Nolde_Islander Nolde noted the damage done by Europeans in Asia and the Pacific. “We live in an evil era,” he wrote, “in which the white man brings the whole earth into servitude.”

Before they arrived back in Germany, in fact they were in Egypt, Nolde and his wife were surprised by the outbreak of World War I.

Although they convinced the local British authorities that they were Danish, Nolde’s luggage, including his paintings from the expedition, were seized. He was eventually reunited with the confiscated works in 1921 at a London junk dealer’s shop.

When the Nazis took over Germany in the 1930s, Nolde was not effected immediately, but eventually his art was declared “degenerate” and more than a thousand of his works were removed from German galleries.

He gave up his apartment in Berlin and retreated to the countryside where he began to produce what he called his 'unpainted pictures' - hundreds of small watercolours which he hid in a secret cache in his isolated house.

Nolde Aged After the war, as the grand old man of German art, Nolde enjoyed a new lease of life. In 1948, Ada having died two years previously, at the age of 81 he married a 28-year old woman, the daughter of a friend.

In 1952 he was awarded the German Order of Merit, his country's highest civilian decoration and continued to work with tremendous energy until late in 1955. Nolde died in April 1956, aged 88.

Images: Poster featuring one of the Rabaul paintings; Self Portrait, 1907; Islander, 1913; Nolde in later life


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Karl Bauman

The report on Emil Nolde is generally OK, but regarding Nolde's times and life in NG nearly nothing is told or explained.

For example, that he nearly died on malaria at Bitapaka Barracks, or that the young nurse Arnthal - who came with Ada and Emil Nolde via Siberia, Korea to Rabaul - died there after a short visit to Kieta on Bougainville.

Nolde, also dangerously ill, found recovery through the District Officer, Dr Stübel, at Kavieng and, when he was healthy again, he listened to the piano playing of Mrs Stübel and they all sang German folk songs.

It was Nolde's best time at Kavieng and he painted many pictures at that time, mostly on the wild coast of Nusa.


Thanks, Keith - very interesting. A Google image search will show you many more of his paintings, including more of Rabaul and the South Pacific...


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