Ernst Wilhelm Nay
25.03.22 - 07.08.22
His powerful, intensely coloured paintings are deemed as creating a bridge across art before and after the Second World War, across Expressionism, abstraction and free gestural painting after 1945, across German and international Modernism: Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902–1968). As a young artist, around 1930, Nay had already gained recognition among collectors, art historians and critics; he had been represented in important exhibitions and received first prizes. With his participation in the documenta in Kassel in 1955, 1959 and 1964 as well as the Biennales in São Paulo and Venice, he succeeded in firmly establishing himself as a major artist of Modern Art.
Despite Nay’s historical significance and his considerable presence in public and private collections, the study of his work has been mostly limited to individual creative phases, to aspects of material or form. A critical, contemporary Nay retrospective is a desideratum – all the more so as current research has shed new light on the artist and recent acquisitions by European museums such as Tate Modern, London, or the Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, have confirmed his relevance.
With around 120 paintings, watercolours and drawings, this first comprehensive retrospective in thirty years offers insight into a multifaceted oeuvre, spanning all its phases. Beyond this, it sheds a light on the central themes and motifs that have shaped Nay’s work over the decades and, by shifting perspectives, looking backwards and forwards in time, enables us to see his work as an organic whole. Seen against the background of its era, it comprises the various political and scientific issues that found expression in his work.
Nay was closely connected to the city of Hamburg, not least through his long-standing relationships with Carl Georg Heise and Alfred Hentzen. As directors of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, they acquired numerous of his oil paintings and works on paper for the museum collection; as directors of the Kunstverein in Hamburg, they presented works by Nay in the Hanseatic city in 1947, 1955, 1964 and 1969. Nay’s only teaching activity also took place in Hamburg: in the autumn of 1953, he held a guest lectureship at the Landeskunstschule for three months. In 1955, he published his art-theoretical work Vom Gestaltwert der Farbe and received the renowned Lichtwark Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
Picture 1: Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902–1968), Paar mit Schmetterlingen, 1939, Öl auf Leinwand, 90 x 115 cm, Sammlung Alexejew-Brandl © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021 / Ernst Wilhelm Nay Stiftung, Köln, Foto: Trevor Good
Picture 2: Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902–1968), Frau mit Tieren, 1939, Öl auf Leinwand, 109 × 87 cm, OL-art, Collection, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021 / Ernst Wilhelm Nay Stiftung © Ketterer Kunst GmbH & Co. KG, München
Picture 3: Barbara Deller-Leppert, Ernst Wilhelm Nay bei der Arbeit, 1964, © Barbara Deller-Leppert, © Fotoarchiv Ernst Wilhelm Nay Stiftung