Emil Nolde (1867-1956), Child and Large Bird, 1912
Emil Nolde’s works from around 1912 often feature grotesque juxtapositions. Child and Large Bird is one example of such works with its surrealist proportions and absurd combination of figures. The bird is frighteningly large compared to the child. Nevertheless, its superior size does not prevent it from being scared away by the little girl’s peculiar physique. The girl’s head is too large in proportion to the thin neck and the tiny body. Her nose is too broad, her forehead too low, and her mouth too wide. The grotesque relationship between the child and the bird is further accentuated by Nolde’s use of an expressive colour scheme. The colours are bright and fervent, full of discord.
The grim aspect of the painting
Things were looking grim in Germany in 1912. The country was on the brink of the Great War. The child can be interpreted as life chasing away darkness, death, and war as embodied by the eagle, a symbol of Germany. Nolde addressed the same motif in a number of woodcuts from 1906. Those images were less eerie, as the relative dimensions of the bird and the girl were less distorted and the colour scheme was black and white.
Nolde is one of the key figures within German Expressionism. His art is powerful and deeply felt, partly inspired by the dark and sombre visions of the German Symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901).