In their works on paper, both Rohlfs and Nolde display great virtuosity. Nolde’s watercolors and Rohlfs’ tempera paintings are famous. Their many flower and landscape motifs speak of a great affinity with nature, yet they cannot be interpreted as imitations of nature. Color as mood: intense, luminous, light, dissolved. Nolde prioritized wet-on-wet work. He deemed chance, inspiration, instinct, and speed essential to his creative process. “Unregulated arbitrariness with a tight style behind it—that is beauty.” (Emil Nolde: Worte am Rande, August 20, 1943 [translation]). This statement by Nolde, made during the period he painted over thirteen hundred of his so-called “unpainted pictures,” the small-format watercolors with which he allegedly defied a ban on painting by the Nazi regime (in truth there was no such ban)—becomes apparent as an artistic method very early on, making it difficult to date Nolde’s watercolors. And there are also constants with respect to motifs, such as the still lifes of flowers and figurines, which enter into a childlike-fantastic interplay.
Christian Rohlfs continued his characteristic experimentation with materials and techniques and the variety of expression they made possible until his old age. In 1921 he discovered the ink, or rather copying pencil. Its typical violet hue appears in a group of mountain landscape drawings, partly as a delicate, flickering study, partly in strong hatching that transforms the motif into abstraction. In the last two decades of his life, Rohlfs consistently restricted himself to works with tempera on paper, for which he drew from all his achievements in drawing and painting; they are thus of the same rank as the earlier paintings. In this late work, different strategies can be observed, such as the dissolving of applied layers of paint by way of rhythmic brush strokes. Weiße Wolke am Berg (White Cloud on the Mountain, 1930) and Weiße Wolke über dem See (White Cloud over the Lake, 1936) are outstanding examples of dematerialization and the transcendence of color. Regular health-related stays on Lake Maggiore from 1927 onwards, finally, allowed Rohlfs to overcome his resistance to the “sweetish” light of the south. Thus Goldenes Abendlicht am Lago Maggiore (Golden Evening Light on Lake Maggiore, 1936) represents a wonderful synthesis of warm light and expressive style.
In both artists’ cases, the later works show no sign of decline. In Nolde’s case, it is precisely the continuity of artistic quality that in fact intensifies the initially raised question about the relationship between the rank of his work and his political blindness.
Lotte Lindner’s & Till Steinbrenner’s interpretation of a letter by the Jewish art collector Tekla Hess, created in collaboration with the Brazilian actress and punk singer Kassandra Speltri, makes one thing very clear, above all: the works of art created in the run-up to and during National Socialism will always be questioned in terms of the both political and human attitude of those who created them.