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“Skater”, one of Nolde’s “unpainted pictures” made while he was forbidden to work by the Nazis ( © Nolde Stiftung Seebüll.)

A major exhibition, just opened at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, highlights the different elements of his career, among them the pictures inspired by a trip to the South Seas, his chromatically intense garden and flower paintings, and some of his “unpainted paintings” — the watercolours he made despite being forbidden to work by the Nazis. What runs through them all is Nolde’s belief in the primacy of colour: “Colours, the painter’s basic materials: colours that have a life of their own, crying and laughing, dream and joy, hot and holy, like love songs and sex, like hymns and chorales!”

Although deeply invested in this idea, he understood that not everyone had the capacity to experience colour in this way; too many of his fellows were hamstrung by reason. But this extra sense, he believed, is what makes artists different and why he was content to be an outsider.

 “Women in the Garden”, 1915, by Emil Nolde (© Nolde Stiftung Seebüll)

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