The Artist’s House
A life remembered
In 1927, the German painter Emil Nolde bought a bare knoll in the marshy countryside of Schleswig-Holstein. Here he built a house and a ‘workplace’ of his own design. He expressly avoided the words atelier or studio; such artists as Franz Stuck and Franz Lenback, rich and famous when Nolde was a young man, had ‘ateliers’ in extravagant artists’ palaces filled with marble and tapestries. For Nolde, a pious peasant’s son, trained as cabinet-maker, the artist’s life was one of hard work and solitude.
The house in Seebüll is a modern cube of bluish purple brick. He painted the rooms in the deep colours he so loved: the hall in ultramarine and the dining room in deep orange. After the war, Nolde, whose work the Nazis had proscribed as ‘degenerate’, tried to buy back as much of his work as he could find. As a result the Seebüll Foundation now owns a splendid collection of well over five hundred oil paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints.
Seebüll is one of the thirty nineteenth and twentieth-century artists’ houses vividly described by art historian Ella Reitsma in The Artist’s House. These houses lie within a 1,000-kilometre radius of Amsterdam: in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and England. They open a special window on the artists’ world, in particular of such famous painters as Claude Monet, Gustave Moreau, Franz Stuck and Rosa Bonheur, the now forgotten but once greatly admired painter of animals, or of the Delft copyist Tétar van Elven. Personal objects help to infuse history with life: a pair of shoes on a wood floor, pen and paper on a desk. The gardens of these houses were often designed by the artists themselves.
Reitsma addresses a wide public with her book, stunningly illustrated with photographs by Hans van den Bogaard, who has been working as a photographer for Vrij Nederland since 1977. She tells us how James Ensor painted his nightmare visions in his mother’s cramped living room, and that the sculptress Barbara Hepworth arranged displays of the smooth pebbles she picked up on the beach on windowsills and stairs - pieces of information that provide us with glimpses not only of the life but also of the work of the artist concerned.