© Elisabeth Nay-Scheibler, Köln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Early – Green White, 1954

Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902–1968, D)

Medium: Oil on Canvas
Dimensions: 125 x 200 cm

about the work

One of the most important artists of the German post-war period in the Reinhard Ernst collection is Ernst Wilhelm Nay. There is probably hardly any other work in which the trend from objective to abstract painting can be followed so easily.

In 1925, Nay began his studies with Karl Hofer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, in the same year he had his first solo exhibition. After a trip to Paris in 1928 and a stay at the Villa Massimo in Rome in 1931/32, he finally returned to Berlin. In 1937, the National Socialists confiscated ten of his works from museums. Nay’s art was from now on considered “degenerate” and he was banned from exhibiting. In 1937 and 1938 the artist travelled to Norway, and it was on these trips that his Lofoten pictures were created. Shortly before the outbreak of war, he met Alexej von Jawlensky and visited him at his studio in Wiesbaden several times. In 1940, Nay was called up for military service and sent to France but he still produced some smaller works and among other things he visited Wassily Kandinsky in Paris. Immediately after the war ended, he created his series of works the Hecate Pictures, the Fugal Pictures, and the Rhythmic Pictures. Nay lived in Cologne from 1951 and finally produced the Scheibenbilder (Disc Pictures) from 1954, whose initial works also include the picture from the Reinhard Ernst collection. In this series, Nay used rounded shapes in contrast to rectangular shapes and chessboard patterns. From 1955/56 he then abandoned the square shapes completely in favour of rounded ones. For Nay, the disc represented a completely natural, automatic shape in his painting, as in accordance with his own words, his hand automatically produced a circular movement, which gave rise to the discs. In 1955, Nay also published his theoretical work From the Gestalt value of colour.

Nay’s leading position in the German art scene after 1945 was demonstrated not only by his numerous solo exhibitions but also his participation in several prominent post-war shows, such as Non-Objective Painting in Germany at the Kunsthalle Mannheim (1952), Duitse kunst na 1945 at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Stedelijk van Abbe-Museum Eindhoven and the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen (1954) as well as Glanz und Gestalt – Ungegenständliche Kunst (Brilliance and Gestalt – non-objective art) at the Wiesbaden Museum (1955). His work was also honoured by his participation several times at the Vienna Biennale (1948, 1956) and at the Documenta (1955, 1959, 1964).

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