“Western civilisation” works? Yes, but be honest about its dark side.


Liberals are undermining western civilisation, writes Professor Robert Tombs (1), April 23 2018, The Times


FEATURED:  Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000. The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture. 1938. Panel no. 5: “Slave trade reaches its height in Haiti, 1730.” Tempera on paper, 29.21 × 48.26 cm. Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans.


Not being open about “Western civilisation’s” full story significantly undermines its marketability

  • Professor Tombs is on the right track, but is telling only part of the story, leaving out the dark side of “Western civilisation’s” emergence, its ugly violent gestation.
  • Yes he leaves out the widespread predatory European imperialist / colonial engagement, in the Americas, then Africa and Asia.
  • In particular he leaves out slavery and the slave trade, especially across the Atlantic.
  • So he omits the sad and flagrant hypocritical betrayal of “Western” values by the newly born USA, in its treatment of blacks and native Americans.
  • And he could throw in two world wars in the 20th C and their appalling consequences. Thus WW1 should never have happened, was self-inflicted, caused by deficient collective leadership succumbing to deadly nationalistic ambitions.  .
  • Not being open about these failures “undermines” credibility in selling the virtues of the “Western” liberal-democratic model (WLDM). It gives greater licence to reactionary repressive authoritarian regimes today.
  • Which is a great pity for the WLDM is clearly universally valid as an optimum approach for nations managing their collective affairs in the modern world, both for 1/ demonstrated far superior economic and associated outcomes; and 2/ far superior political outcomes, human rights and freedoms.
  • Importantly the WLDM is ”Western” only because it happened to emerge there. But it’s as valid universally as Newton’s laws.


1/ A “chequered” history – the dark side of “Western civilisation”.

The Professor misses grievous failings in the story of “Western civilisation”.


2/ Slavery

We can start with the marred US “achievement”, the American Revolution, launched by the high-minded Founding Fathers’ Declaration of Rights, Constitution etc ., in the wake of 18th C European Enlightenment.

Except their admirable and just lofty ideals applied only to.. . whites! Like a club it was Members Only.

And this club was not open to slaves or native Americans, at a frighful cost, in the end to both sides, and to this day. Look at the 2017 furore over Confederate statues. Which would not be a lot different to neo-Nazis in Germany wanting Guderian etc on horseback in bronze.

Instead, at a great ultimate cost, the South chose to fight to maintain the bonanza that was their cotton-based economy, underpinned by nearly 4 million slaves and selling to a Europe then booming as the industrial revolution marched on.

Then having fought and lost the Civil War the South, with the acquiescence of the US Federal Government, managed to effectively “re-enslave” the blacks through Jim Crow laws and disenfranchisement, for nigh on another century!

The Civil War was a terrible price paid by the Republic for its hypocrisy.


This US experience was one facet of a much wider economically motivated criminal enterprise, chiefly in the Americas.

Yes the damning truth is that slavery has been a major blight on “Western civilisation”.

How many fancy old houses in Britain were funded by slavery and the slave trade?


4/ Western imperialism.

Slavery was part of the wider blight of Western imperialism, the widespread predatory foreign colonial engagement by European powers especially in the Americas to start, through Spain then Portugal, thence Africa and Asia, through England, France and the Netherlands. Then even the US joined in in a small way, end of the 19th C.


Taking the experience of one frustrated imperial power, look at the appalling post WW2 failure by France, its futile desperation in trying to cling to its substantial colonial footholds in Vietnam then Algeria, at great cost to locals and the French visitors. And the Algerian debacle occurred after the ignominious 1954 defeat in Vietnam, as if they learned nothing in Indo-China.


5/ And two world wars and the rest! Our fault?!

Finally we can throw in the two world wars of the 20th C (ie parts 1 and 2 of the same war), and their appalling consequences, certainly like the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust, and perhaps too the Depression and the Maoist Revolution.

Yes WW1 was basically self-inflicted by the European powers, should never have happened. It was caused simply by an egregious failure in leadership by the governments of the main European powers, succumbing to the temptations of Old World nationalistic ambitions.

Except now, ironically, these countries were armed with the best the booming newly industrialised economies could provide, in volume and deadly killing efficiency.


6/ The value of “Western civilisation”, “Western” values.

However, the Professor’s main point is right, the value of “Western values”.


Importantly, they are now “Western” only in the sense they happened to emerge there, in the West.

Though their relevance is now universal – like Kepler’s or Newton’s Laws – in the sense they are by far the best practical arrangements Man has devised for management of his collective affairs, within group political entites, within nations.


And for two major reasons.

First, through regulated private free markets and rule of law, they are by far the most successful arrangements for economic outcomes, and associated consequent benefits, in terms of matters like nutrition, shelter, leisure and health,

Second, they provide by far the best outcome for effective freedom of individuals, human rights etc.

But the result, while far superior to all the authoritarian alternatives, will still always be messy, “chequered”, sub-optimal, not least because of a/ necessary adaptation to never-ending ongoing disruptive economic and technological change, b/ reactionary opposition; c/ bad governments and other actors.


7/ But avoiding the dark side of “Western civilisation” has consequences, impairs its marketability, 

It’s not an academic matter.

Not telling the truth, the whole truth, about the history of “Western civilisation”, undermines its wider appeal, especially to countries today plagued by.. ..Old Values!

It allows self-interested opponents in authoritarian countries greater licence in stirring opposition to “Western” values.

So there is a responsibility, even a moral one, to sell the value of “Western civilisation”, and to be honest about its failures on the journey,


Note. 1/  Professor Robert Tombs is author of The English and their History.
Meanwhile the heading “Liberals are undermining western civilisation” uses “Liberals” in a misleading way, namely the confusing American terminology referring to Left wing protagonists.

Emil Nolde – the lash not the latte!


Emil Nolde (nee Hansen) (1867-1956, 79)

The lash not the latte! Die Peitsche nicht die Latte!


The message not the aesthetic?

One off. A singular „primitive“ German Expressionist painter.

Not a „nice man“? No cosmopolitian multiculturalist: a pious, reactionary, pro-Nazi outsider.

But some striking modern paintings. If on his favoured old themes.

Nolde fits a 600 year tradition of serious, slightly mad, moralising, reactionary German art?



1920. Tänzerin und Harlekin (Dancer and Harlequin). 5 x 100 cm, oil on canvas (burlap).Nolde Foundation.    COMMENT: at age 53, one of Nolde’s later (last?) quirky figure paintings, again invokes dancing.


1909. Wildly Dancing Children (Enfants dansant sauvagement). 73 X 88, Kiel, Kunsthalle


1921 Paradise Lost (Paradies verloren), oil on canvas, 86.5 x 100.5 cm, Nolde Stiftung Seebüll.

COMMENT: two signature Nolde works, an early Post-Impressionist cum Expressionist take on a timeless human theme, Dionysian revel, and a shell-shocked Aryan Eve in a later rowdy account of the foundation story for Christianity, the title making his point, a work which for some reason the Church was not keen to acquire.


Claude Monet (1840-1926). c1868. Coucher de soleil, pastel on paper, 21.8 x 35.8 cm. Est. GBP 200-300k.

COMMENT:  Here is a Christies’ offering 28 February 2018, London, a simple small proto-Expressionist work by Monet, painted in the late 1860s, 6 years before Impressionism was officially launched, and about 60 years before Nolde was still painting much the same way by the Baltic.


 1/ Summary

Emil Nolde was something else, different. For a brief spell before and around WW1 the Danish-German artist was a distinctly original Expressionist painter.

But as a leading Modernist he was also a strange if not unique mix of eye-catching art, a taciturn personality, little or no formal art training, and starkly un-modern“ old ideas, like old-time Christian religion and anti-Semitic pro-Nazi German nationalism.

But as such he arguably also fits well within a 600 year long tradition of slightly mad, moralising reactionary German art? The message not the aesthetic? „Die Botschaft nicht die Ästhetik?“

Though to be fair his copious colorful Baltic skyscapes and flowers showed he relaxed nearer the aesthetic pole.


His creative apogee was brief, only about a decade, c1909-19.

Appropriately, after finding his feet around 1905-08 (meeting the Die Brücke group, 1906-07, and Edvard Munch in 1906) Nolde in mid 1909 abruptly kick started his distinctive vigorous Expressionist style through religion. After recovering from illness that summer he embarked on a sequence of striking Expressionist religious paintings, like La Pentecôte (Pentecost), The Last Supper and Verspottung (Mocking of Christ by the Soldiers). In 1911/12 followed the huge 9 panel,  The Life of Christ (centre panel 220.5 x 193.5 cm; the side panels each 100 x 86 cm), and 1915, the powerful compressed The Burial.

This theme then didn’t get much stranger than his wild 1912 tryptych on the unfamiliar St Mary of Egypt, an obscure and bizarre 7th C AD misogynistic story which also illustrates the Church’s problem with women. Also in 1912 came his iconic  woodcut The Prophet of 1912. A decade later he unloaded with a shell-shocked Eve in Paradise Lost and a gory Martyrdom triptych.

From this religious passion he broadened his ambit to encompass what we might call primeval irrational urges, so striking too for elements of the primeval Dionysian madness within was a clutch of frantic dance themed images after 1910, and then many of his figure groups, like The Missionary (1912, painted before his New Guinea visit), Boy with a Big Bird (1912), Soldiers (1913), and Encounter on the beach (1920),

Then his creative flame waned after c1921? Beyond his mid 50s. He still painted a lot – many figures (portraits, small groups, some recalling post WW1 Francis Picabia?), many landscapes (sea and sky), and some flowers (lots of poppies and sunflowers) – mostly small and sketchy, in his trademark patchy colour-mad style. But mostly he was treading water, particulaly once proscribed by the Nazis.


„Primitive“ fits Emil Nolde, like his uncosmopolitan reactionary view of life: his strong attachment to his Christian faith, to his stark North Sea rural coastal home in far north Germany (a “regionalist“, Peter Selz, MOMA, 1963), and also to anti-Semitic German nationalism, later including a strong allegiance to the Nazis.

Which meant of course he was much closer to the then popular mindset than most of his avant-garde artist contemporaries.


And primitive fits his distinctive Expressionist painting style, developed especially when around age 42 he found his metier, Expressionist „modernist“ feet, just before WW1, c1909-14: coarse, ragged and colorful shapes, cropped, close up / in your face compositions, mask-like faces, figures with an element of the visceral, the grotesque and the crazy.

His 1913-14 ethnological visit to German New Guinea only whetted his existing appetite for the „primitive“, for he was already painting pictures of masks 2 years before, in 1911


He was an odd Modernist too in being older than his main contemporaries when he hit his straps around 1909 at age 42, except notably Kandinsky (who was a year older), also another Russian, fellow Expressionist Alexander Jawlensky (3 years older).


Like most people Nolde sought company and recognition, but his awkward personality constrained social engagement, and hence also his art training. For a time he was in the mix with other avant-garde painters (eg in particular when invited into Die Brucke, 190607), but temperamentally as well as politically he was out of step, the crusty old loner who quickly retreated from The Bridge, then from Berlin back to the rural Baltic.


His odd cocktail of circumstances became darkly comical after the Nazis took control in Germany early 1933 and especially when in 1937, unsurprisingly, the authorities deemed his colorful confronting modernism „degenerate“, showed him with other „degenerates“, and confiscated over 1000 works. The puzzled older artist (now near 70) pleaded for leniency, stressed his long running earnest and sincere support for Hitler and his Government!


2/ The lash not the latte? Die Peitsche nicht die Latte! The message not the aesthetic? Nolde fits in a 600 year long tradition of slightly mad, reactionary German art?

Here’s an original observation?

In seeking a wider perspective Nolde can be seen at least loosely as part of Germany (including the diverse collection of statelets it was pre the 19th C unification) having a long tradition of taking its art seriously, laboring the message not the aesthetic, and mostly favouring a reactionary nostalgic purpose, quasi-spiritual even, be it trumpeting Christianity or later calling on olden pagan Northern myths.

This  is head down not feet up art.


So Germany was slow to accept the emerging artistic and cultural thrust of the Renaissance, swam against the tide, particularly in the 14th and 15th centuries. Thus it contributed disproportionately to the so-called International Gothic art style, which tried to sustain the unnatural stylised Mediaeval painting, applied almost exclusively to asserting Christian iconography and per contra the radical shift to naturalism and realism which started in Italy late 13th / early 14th C with Pisano and Giotto.

This is evident for example in work of painters like the Master of the Třeboň Altarpiece  (active 1380-90, Prague), Master Francke (c1380-c1440), a German painter born in Lower Rhine, and the Master of the Karlsruhe Passion (active c1435-65), working in Strasbourg area.

Later, paradoxically, around 1500, as the High Renaissance was abroad in Italy and the Reformation was about to erupt across Europe, this anachronistic, reactionary neo-Mediaeval approach was then emphatically sustained by two stridently distinctive painters, Heironymous Bosch (1450-1516) in Flanders and Matthias Grünewald (c. 1470 – 1528) mostly in Mainz and Frankfurt. Both are probably far better known today than in their time, for their respective arresting contributions, their garish, visionary nightmarish proto-Surrealist imaginatons:  Bosch in a unique one man admonitory c20 year moral crusade on behalf of the Roman Church, and Grunewald for one mighty religious work, his 11 panels for the Isenheim Altarpiece (c1506-16) focussing on the life of Christ.  So both focussed exclusively on a didactic religious purpose, and both did so through graphic unnatural expression. Bosch’s younger contemporary, Hans Baldung Grien (c. 1484 – 1545), an apprentice to Durer, later based Strasbourg, also had a unique style and content, which also strayed into unnatural imagination and fantasy.

On the other hand the approach of the great virtuosic Albrecht  Durer (1471-1528) – based mainly Nuremberg but broadened particularly by visits to Italy (1494-95 and 1505-07), also the Netherlands (1520-21) – was more equivocal, painted many religious images but avoided the ominous dark Boschian approach.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (no „h“) (c1525-1569) was a major Flemish artist in the mid 16th C, in the wake of the Reformation, now highly regarded and popular after about 3 centuries of neglect, and who died in his mid 40s, active for only c14 years.  Bruegel painted religious works but mostly set in wintry Netherlands landscapes, early ones of which looked back Joachim Patinir (1483-1524, also Antwerp-based), except for 3 paintings c1562, where he did briefly follow Bosch’s visionary nightmarish model.  Like Bosch a moralising theme threads his work, but in secular rural settings and he is now popular mostly for realistic depictions of peasant life.


Two other famous modern German artists, both slightly younger – Otto Dix (1891-1969) and George Grosz (1893-1959) – certainly fit the tradition of serious minded German art, Die Peitsche, in their fierce satirical assault on post WW1 Weimar Germany, through their graphic Expressionist leaning stylised realism (cf New Objectivity). But clearly they spoke from the other end of the political spectrum to Nolde, and were relentless, taking no time off for aesthetically therapeutic landscapes and still lives.


The slightly younger close contemporary Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) was another German (American) painter who applied a modern artistic style to an anti-modern nostalgic purpose, leaving a raft of quasi-spiritual (Christian) aethereal luminous depictions of towns and churches, and seascapes and boats. But Feininger’ modern style was quite different toNolde, a much softer personal variant of Cubo-futurism, and incorporating a much louder aesthetic dimension than most of Nolde’s work.

However Nolde’s grotesque figures from his peak phase near and about WW1 do bear some resemblance to the distinctive elongated cartoon like figures in much of Feininger’s early painting (c 1910), which he carried over from his immediate prior career as a newspaper cartoonist.

On the other hand Feininger was far more conventional and social than Nolde, engaging far more closely with the art world, like his stint teaching with the Bauhaus.


Another distinctive Expressionist painter who Nolde met (in Munich?) and exhibited with, and whose work bears some comparison with Nolde, is the Russian expatriate (ie like Kandinsky) Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941).

Like Nolde he was also a late starter, but from very different circumstances. From a well off and well connected family he abandoned a military career for art. He was not overtly religious like Nolde though he was loosely “spiritual”and his many distinctive portraits / heads do draw on “traditional” roots, both Russian / Byzantine icons and “primitive” African sculpture.

Also, conspicuously, unlike Kandinsky (whose strong spiritualism, as for Mondrian, derived from the nonsensical strictures of Theosophy), neither Nolde nor Jawlensky crossed the line to pure abstraction.


Not surprisingly Nolde’s striking work has left its mark.

One can recognise American Modernist Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) in some of Nolde’s work (like Soldiers of 1913, which work Hartley may have seen in Germany near and at the start of WW1?

Also a couple of his works (like 1911, Figures exotiques 2 and Nature morte aux masques) seem to point directly to current market favourite Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88).


3/ The reactionary Modernist: a keen Nazi supporter and a Christian.

Nolde was an unusual Expressionist artist.

His painting style from c1909 was radical but unlike most of his cosmopolitan and politically progressive avant-garde colleagues he was staunchly reactionary. His strong traditional religious beliefs and conservative political views were directly out of step.

From a young age Nolde was a devout Christian, then from c1909, after illness, and over a period of about 15 years, he painted many confronting unconventional religious works, traditional Christian subjects but in a jarring modern style. And then he was apparently puzzled and hurt the Church did not commission any such works, or hang them!


More controversially, but far from unusual given his roots, Nolde became an early (from early 1920s?) and vociferous supporter of Hitler and the Nazi Party, and a racist denouncer of Jews (eg refer to work by Stefan Koldehoff and the catalogue for 2014 Frankfurt exhibition, Aya Soika and Bernhard Fulda): „For as long as I’ve worked as an artist I have publicly battled against the foreign infiltration of German art, against the dirty dealings on the art market and the disproportionately predominant Jewish influence everywhere in the arts..” (Emil Nolde notes, 6th December 1938).” “The sentences following this declaration consist of glowing endorsements of the Führer, Volk and Fatherland.” (Stefan Koldehoff).

Then self-interest reinforced his public support when in 1937, to his puzzled chagrin, the Nazis deemed his painting style „degenerate“, confiscated over 1000 of his works (1052?) and assigned 48 to the infamous Degenerate Art exhibition, Entartete Kunst. To no avail he pleaded for overturn of their rulings, eg in person to to Nazi gauleiter Baldur von Schirach in Vienna. Instead, on the contrary, in 1941 they ordered him to cease painting, which he quietly ignored, then painting 100s of watercolors which he secreted,  calling them his “Unpainted Pictures“..

After WW2 however, like many Nazis, he quickly sought to evade responsibility, rewrite his history, cover his tracks, and (until recent times) with some official support.


4/ Driving his art content and style

Nolde was „spiritually“rooted to his locale in North Friesland in far north Germany, had a quasi-spiritual and nationalistic attachment, from 1902 taking his birthplace for his surname (Nolde is now in Denmark).

The main issues driving the content of his art were nature, religion, and the primal behaviour of people.

Nature he painted especially through his coastal home in north Germany, many landscapes and seascapes, through many floral still lives, also the Swiss mountains when he passed there as a young man.

His Christian religion was pivotal. These many important works started especially after illness in 1909, beginning with the Last Supper. Many followed, most like the Last Supper, then one crazy Noldesque one, Dance around the Golden Calf of 1910, culminating in his large neo-Mediaeval triptych of Life of Christ, 1911-12.

His woodcut of The Prophet (1912), dark and close, was an influential signature work, and later his Paradise (1921) was another arresting image, of a pivotal Biblical subject.

His attraction to what might be styled the primal passions of people is evident in his memorable depictions of the timeless theme of „dance“, but across various situations: like and children playing (1909, Wildly Dancing Children), and. like a night club (1914, Still life with dancers), and even, incongruously, religious settings! Like 1910‘s Dance Around the Golden Calf.

City life he saw in Berlin, then summer 1910 through the winter 1910-11 he explored Hamburg, the large northern port, painting many life scenes there, including cafes and night clubs, and including close up groups like the Slovenes and the Three Russians.


His art style, and longevity (thus avoiding two world wars and the great flu pandemic), allowed him to be prolific (eg  Athenaeum list 1236 works), and across different media. Beyond oil paintings he left many watercolors, also many prints, etchings and woodcuts and lithographs.


The essence of his Expressionist style was bold bright colour in ragged untidy in your face close-ups.  So his art style drew heavily on colour, lashings of, his „tempests of colour“ (Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976)), triggered especially it would seem by seeing works of Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) after around 1899.

Every colour holds within it a soul, which makes me happy or repels me..”, he wrote.

In his many group figurative images (secular and religious) he favoured crowded close ups (like some famous past artists, cf the later Bosch), painting coarse ragged primtive like figures, drawing on caricature, the grotesque.


His painting method was spontaneous and quick, starting with „an idea“, then „I became the copyist of the idea“, working from his imagination, with little detailed preconception or preparation. Thus he was also prolific.


5/ One man’s journey.

5.1/ His own man, an outsider more than most.

Like many notable artists he followed his own muse, was his own man.

Socially he was awkward, shy and reclusive, wanted friends and acceptance, but struggled.

So in art he was largely self taught, partly because he had to work his way up from humble farming roots as a craftsman, but then especially because once he finally could afford some training, like in Paris , his personality meant he struggled, was not an easy student. He wrote “Paris has given me very little, and I had expected so much.” (Peter Selz, op.cit.).

For a time, from c1905, he met other artists, keen to exchange views, but again struggled. Much older than the others (eg 40 compared with mid to late 20s) Nolde in 1907 left the important pioneering Die Brücke Expressionist group after only about a year, not getting enough his own way.

His powerful unconventional modern religious paintings, unusual as avant-garde subjects, also aroused dissent.

After Die Brücke he joined the Berlin Secession, a group which rejected the conventional Association of Berlin Artists and favoured  Post-Impressionism.

But 1910 he left that group after a “prolonged quarrel” following rejection of his 1910 Pentecost, and also works by other Exprssionists. He bitterly criticized Secession leader Max Liebermann (Jewish). Some of the rejected Expressionist painters (led by Tappert and Pechstein) in 1910 formed the breakaway Berlin Neue Secession, their first exhibition advertised as artists “rejected by the Berlin Secession 1910”. Nolde tried and failed in 1911 to take leadership of this group.

The art museum in Halle bought his Last Supper despite disagreement among the directors.


5.2/ Emergence as artist – largely self trained.

He was born Emil Hansen 1867 into an old devout Protestant farming family, one of 4 brothers, at Nolde in the western part of North Schleswig, then the Prussian (German) Duchy of Schleswig, becoming part of Denmark after WW1.

The German Expressionist painter and printmaker stayed close to his farming origins but not as a farmer, in 1884 (age 17) becoming an apprentice wood carver at a furniture factory (Sauermannsche Schnitzschule (Carving School)) at Flensburg, till 1888, thence 1889 (22) to work as a furniture carver at Karslruhe, taking art classes at night at Karlsruhe School of Applied Arts, then 1890-91 to Berlin as a furniture designer, but now drawing in museums. 1892-98 (age 25-31) he was a drawing instructor at Museum of Industry and Commerce in St Gallen in Switzerland and there finally encountered avant-garde art through Swiss painters, the neo-Romantic / Symbolist Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) and Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), impressed by their “allegorical, animistic” takes on nature, and by the dramatic natural scenery. Some financial success selling postcards of Symbolist like anthropomorphised mountains allowed him to seek further art training.

But 1899 he failed to enrol with Franz von Stuck in Munich, studied briefly instead at nearby Dachau with Adolf Hölzel (1853-1934), an interesting painter who at near age 60 helped pioneer abstraction, and who would have encouraged Nolde’s interest in colour.

He next spent 9 months in Paris to summer 1900, now studying at Académie Julian, where he met more new French art, but apparently departed very disappointed!

1900-02 he lived back near his roots, Copenhagen and nearby, 1903 settling on the island of Alsen, but also working in Berlin.


5.3/ Finds his feet

After a brief quiet start (cf Light be, 1901), and a visit to Italy 1904-05, by c1905 Nolde‘s distinctive colour hungry art style was becoming evident. In Nolde’s first colourful paintings c1905-07, mostly outdoors, like gardens and flowers, we see a clear line to especially van Gogh (eg Nolde‘s Harvest day, 1905, and Red flowers, 1906), and also Gauguin (eg Nolde‘s Market people, 1908).

But perhaps the immediate trigger of Expressionism in Germany, and presumably making a vital impact on Nolde was the Norwegian modern giant Edvard Munch (1863-1944), only 4 years older than Nolde but who made his mark much earlier, especially after being exposed in his mid-late 20s (c1889-1892) to the ongoing revolution in Paris, including Gauguin and van Gogh. Thus early as 1893 (age 30) Munch produced his first version his primally important The Scream. Later Nolde met Munch in Germany in 1906.


February 1906 Nolde was invited by the (17 years) younger Schmidt-Rottluff  (“one of Die Brücke’s undertakings is to attract any ferment of revolution….. And so, dear Mr Nolde….  we hereby wish to pay tribute to you for your tempests of colour”) to join the Dresden-based German Expressionist group Die Brücke (founded 1905 by Fritz Bleyl (1880–1966), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Erich Heckel (1883-1970)  etc). Schmidt-Rottluff, then introduced him to woodcut. Others included Max Pechstein (1881-1955).

Gustav Schiefler who he met in Berlin after 1902 was an important supportive patron, collected his work, wrote, and later produced a catalogue raisonné of his prints.


His painting style thereafter was variations on the colorfully „Expressive“, reinforced by his pre WW1 contact with other German Expressionists, through Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter.

Thus in 1912 Nolde showed with Kandinsky’s (1866-1944) and Franz Marc’s (1880-1916) important Munich-based group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), including Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), Paul Klee (1879-1940), August Macke (1887-1914), Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) and Albert Bloch (1881-1961).


The bold stylised art of “primitive” native people (especially sculpture, often accessed via museums) made a strong impressionon Nolde, as it had on many modern artists, and this was reinforced by being invited by the German Imperial Colonial Office to join a brief government ethnological excursion to German New Guinea, 1913-14, returning soon after WW1 broke out.


The other contemporary painter who resonates in some way with some of Nolde’s work was the Belgian James Ensor (1860-1949), 7 years older, and who Nolde visited in Ostend early 1911.

Ensor was similar to Nolde in a number of ways: he was also his own man, was also somewhat eccentric and reclusive; also painted Christian religious subjects (though less conventionally than Nolde, more as polemical expression of disllusion with the world); and finally, also he favoured elements of fantasy and the grotesque, especially for about a decade from the late 1880s (eg Masks Mocking Death, 1888), ie in his late 20s through 30s.


5.4/ And the rest

After WW1 when his home region became part of Denmark Nolde took Danish citizenship. Later, in 1927, he settled back near his roots by the North Sea coast, but at Seebüll, just inside the German border and today part of Neukirchen. There he built a house, now a museum.

Arguably the sting went out of Nolde’s work after the early 1920s, ie he in his mid 50s?

His output rate was far lower.

And in particular he retreated from his fierce slightly manic or frenzied Expressionist approach, from the aggressive style, and in the content, like no more of the many dance paintimgs, eg The Dancers (1920), and the quirky still lives, eg Striped goat and still life (1920).

There was still lots of colour but in a softer flat patchy style.

Lots of landscapes, lots of flowers, and some figures.

Then later, constrained by the Nazi rulings during WW2 he resorted to many small watercolours, his Unpainted paintings.


After his death in 1956 the Hamburg Kunstverein mounted a memorial exhibition at in 1957. Later he was exhibited in major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1963); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1995); Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1995); Brücke-Museum, Berlin (1999); Grand Palais, Paris (2008); Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo (2012); and Frankfurt Städel Museum / Louisiana Museum of Modern Arts (2014).






1907, Magic of light, (Lichtzauber), Oil on canvas, 70 x 88 cm. Nolde Stiftung Seebull


1910. Dance Around the Golden Calf, 88 x 105.5 cm


1911, Nature morte aux masques, 74 X 78, Kansas City, Nelson Gallery of Art, Atkins-Museum


1911 At the café (coffee house). Oil on canvas Museum Folkwang, Essen


1912. Boy with Grande Bird. Oil on canvas, 73 x 88 cm, SMK (Statens Museum for Kunst), Copenhagen


1912. The Prophet, 32.1 x 22.2 cm


1912 Legend: St. Mary of Egypt – Death in the Desert, Heilige Maria Aegyptiaca – Rechte Tafel: Der Tod in der Wüste). 1912, oil on canvas (Kunsthale Hamburg, Hamburg).

COMMENT: The story was written in the 7th C, of Saint Mary (Maria Aegyptiaca) who lived in 5th or 6th C, born Egypt, sold her body for living, “driven “by an insatiable and an irrepressible passion,””, who traveled to Jerusalem, “paid for her passage by offering sexual favors”, there saw the light, was “struck with remorse” and lived rest of her life across the Jordan as a hermit. The lion helped bury her.


1915. The Burial (Die Grablegung), oil on canvas, 87 x 117 cm, Stiftung Nolde, Seebüll, Nasjonalmuseet, National Museum of Art, , Architecture and Design, Norway


1912. Candle Dancers (Kerzentänzerinnen), Oil on canvas, 100.5 x 86.5 cm, Nolde Stiftung Seebüll.


1912. The Missionary, Private collection, 75 x 63 cm


1913. Soldiers, Oil on canvas, 86.5 x 106 cm, Nolde Stiftung Seebüll.


1914. Still life with dancers, oil on canvas 88 × 105.5 cm Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris


1913 Clouds in Summer, Oil on canvas, 73.3 x 88.5 cm (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)


  1. Shivering Russians,103.5 x 118.9 x 5.3 cm, SMK (Statens Museum for Kunst), Copenhagen


1917, Selbstbildnis, 1917, 83 x 65 cm, oil on wood. Nolde Foundation Seebüll , © Nolde Foundation Seebüll, 2013.


1918. Blue Sea (Blaues Meer). Oil on canvas, 56 x 70cm, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


1919 The enthusiast, Sprengel Museum Hanover 101.3 x 73.6cm


1920 Encounter on the beach, 86.5 x 100 cm, Nolde Stiftung Seebüll


1920 Still Life with Striped Goat, 75 x 88cm, private


1920. Dancers


C 1930? Sea coast (Red Sky, Two White Sails), watercolor on Japan paper, 22.3 x 17.1cm. Nolde Stiftung Seebüll


1930. Schwü̈ler Abend (Muggy evening), Nolde Stiftung Seebüll

n27ph   n29


Emil Nolde circa 1907? Age 40?                               And c 1945, age 78?

Wither the “Western” liberal model?

Wither the “Western” liberal model?

Affray and ruin? No. Just the start.

Cheer up. Do not underestimate unleashed humankind’s Reason and curiosity.


All men desire to know (Aristotle)


Quel temps pour être en vie! (What a time to be alive!) (French, anonymous)


We’re all riding on this freight train,

Made of rocks and sticks and mortar…….

Well the driver’s sleepin’ at the wheel,

Maybe there just aint no driver…….

We’re all ridin through this emptiness,

You just got trust your neighbour..   (T Bones Band)


FEATURED, The first Modern Man? Odysseus refuses immortality.

Sir William Russell Flint  (1880-1969), 1907, CALYPSO AND ODYSSEUS, oil on canvas, 101.5 by 127 cm.


The fork in the road?!


John Martin 1852, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah , oil on canvas, 136 x 212cm.


Henri Matisse 1953 Memory of Oceania 284.4 x 286.4 cm, Moma, Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, and charcoal on
paper mounted on canvas


  • There is currently much pessimism on the future of the “Western” liberal model, particularly from within the camp, some extreme, like talk of Europe “committing suicide”.
  • It’s easy to get downhearted, if you lose perspective.
  • This gloom appears misplaced, misses perspective, the wider context of Modernity.
  • Modernity’s breakout – driven by the “Western” liberal model – is epochal, the biggest transitional shift in humankind’s history, a 5 million year event.
  • It has brought unimaginable Progress, material and otherwise, including an explosion in knowledge, and also cultural expression.
  • But it’s a Faustian bargain. The genie is out, no going back. Relentless competitive curiosity is now unleashed.
  • It will likely bring further Progress, but the outcome will be messy, sub-optimal, because:
    • a/ of inherent reactionary resistance from Old Order interests, attitudes, thus facilitated by:
      • Man’s appetite for the Otherworldly / supernatural,
      • Man’s nostalgic attraction to tradition, including racism and social class.
    • b/ adjusting to, coping with the relentless economic and associated change is painful. A Sisyphean burden?
    • c/ self-serving sociopathic autocrats will always try exploit unrest engendered by change.
  • Also there is risk of dangerous “mishaps” which can have drastic near term consequences, like WW1, and, recently, the 2003 Iraq intervention.
  • However one transformational positive outcome of the breakout is that humankind now has meaningful collective technical prowess to react to natural challenges, especially like climate change, which factor has had such dramatic consequences in the past, like killing the Bronze Age.
  • Though, oddly, the end of the Bronze Age then midwived the radical proto-modern experience that was Classical Greece.


Prognosis for the “West”? Tears all round?

Many informed current observers are negative if not desperate in their outlook for the West, the “Western” liberal model.

Thus Mr Pankaj Mishra in the London Review of Books (21 September 2017) reviews a clutch of recent books wrestling with a topic that doesn’t get much bigger, the future of the Liberal West, including its relationship with the rest of the world, books like: The Retreat of Western Liberalism (Edward Luce), The Fate of the West: Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea (Bill Emmott), The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (Mark Lilla), The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (David Goodhart) and especially The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (Douglas Murray). Greg Sheridan (in The Australian, 21 Sep.2017) reviews the last book approvingly in an aticle headlined Angela Merkel signals ruin for Europe.

All these books, by commentators well disposed to the West, take a dim even “Apocalyptic” view of prospects and in conclusion Mr Mishra – a fierce adversary of the liberal construct, known for castigating the depredatory excesses of “Liberal capitalism”, both inside and imperialistically outside – tags the authors as reactionaries, then (unfairly, illogically) lumps them with the Charlottesville white suprematists as all missing “the ancien regime”.

These writers join many past political philosophers pessimistic on the West’s future.

The pessimists  fall into two broad camps:

1/ nostalgic reactionaries who cannot see the West succeeding if it abandons certain Old Order precepts, especially the Christian story. Per the recent book by Mark Lilla these might be called Shipwrecked Minds;

2/ wary supporters who don’t see the Western model having the wherewithal and resilience to survive its foes.


Perspective: long prologue for Modernity

It’s a long and intriguing story and it’s worth outlining as perspective before attempting a prognosis.

Arguably it started with the old Greeks, as an outstanding if not unique early case of proto-democracy, and of thinkers prepared to slough off traditional religious frameworks (usually incorporated into some secular autocratic power structure) in asking frank questions about their world, their natural world, and Man’s conduct of his collective social affairs.

Interestingly this occurred within the context of an apparently prosperous strongly growing, competitive, trade-oriented, quasi-democratic economy, until they were eclipsed by infighting then by the Macedonians.

After a long hiatus – most notable for the remarkable 600 year experience of old republican cum imperial Rome, then, as it succumbed to voluminous waves of eastern incursions, the fortuitous leg up Rome’s large footprint  gave to Christianity’s spread – the immediate pathway to Modernity finally arose in Europe with the 18th C Enlightenment, crucially building on the 17th C scientific revolution and the associated philosophical upheaval, again in the context of a growing economy, of rising literacy, the printing press, and especially of ongoing and growing questioning of the Christian Church’s authority, which dated back especially to the 14th C upheaval of Black Death.

Arguably too, and somewhat analogous to the ancient Greek experience, the roots of the liberal breakout in Europe lay far back in Anglo-Saxon England, where the quasi-democratic practices of immigrant Germanic tribes evolved to restrain monarchs (cf Magna Carta 1215), and the moot evolved into parliament as a representative institution.

Then arguably the modern liberal economy was born in 17th C Netherlands – its secular competitive ingenuity honed and stimulated by fighting off the regressive Old Order Spanish empire – which helped to nourish the takeoff soon after in England.

A familiar precis.


Modernity’s troubled gestation

However, stepping back, we see the emergence of Modernity has been protracted and intensely painful, compromised by two major sets of factors.


The first is “unenlightened” reactionary  Old Order behaviour, expressed through concerted fightback, reflecting still potent traditional self-interests, appetites, loyalties and attitudes, religious (particularly theistic / theocratic) and nationalistic and racial.

First after the late 16th C religious wars in France, following the early 16th C Reformation,  the 17th C saw central Europe engulfed by the Thirty Years War (1618-48), as the violent and fruitless culmination of the Counter-Reformation, ie the Rome-based Catholic Church, led by the Papacy, in league with sympathetic secular leaders fiercely resisting the Protestant Reformation.


Oddly, alongside this reactionary fightback, there emerged in the Netherlands a small but dynamic pocket of progressive proto-modernity, a republican government atop a buoyant growing innovative competitive economy and a vibrant secular culture patronised not by the Church or monarchs but mainly by increasingly prosperous private people.


But the Old Order viewpoints persisted.

Thus the late 18th C bright New World adventure of the United States – its revolutionary secession from the British Empire, consciously launched as it was with laudable Enlightenment aspirations – was tragically compromised from the start by the bad Old Order ways.

Thus the founders instead established de facto a “selective democracy”, inconsistent with Enlightenment ideals, as they clung to slavery, big time, in the South, where about 5 million whites “oversaw” about 4 million enslaved blacks, basically for the money, fortuitously feeding cotton to a Europe then booming, ironically thanks to its “modern”industrial take off.

Alongside this the US governments violently evicted the native Americans, again for commercial gain.


Meanwhile similar Old Order priorities also saw ambitious large scale European imperialist colonial adventures in the 19th century, also, like the USA, with a racist flavour, ie particularly in India, plus a raft of interventions in Africa and elsewhere.


But then secondly, in tragic hugely destructive blowback, these residual reactionary attitudes also gave us WW1, as traditional Old Order European rivalries which had plagued the continent for centuries resurfaced, only, ironically, now among nations that much better armed and resourced militarily owing to the economically productive industrial take off. So an old fashioned war was fought with modern weaponry, multiplying the tragedy.

Some paint WW1 as the inevitable resolution of growing tensions in Europe, but ultimately it only happened after a match was thrown, and the relevant supervising politicians misread the total circumstances.


The second major complication has been enterprising sociopathic autocrats or dictators, history’s Bad Boys, exploiting the social unrest / chaos engendered by the modernizing process, again with calamitous results, thinking here of the three great “modern” revolutions (France, Russia and China), the latter two both midwived by world wars.

So the French Revolution gave us the Terror then Napoleon.

The Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution, sprouting from WW1 induced chaos there , brought forth Lenin and Stalin.

Then WW1, crucially compounded by the Depression, also gave us Hitler.

Finally the Chinese Revolution gave us Mao.

Bad Boys, like Genghis Khan, have always worried history but the Modernity’s wider better resourced context gave them much richer pastures.


Some desperate Christian critics of the Enlightenment like to blame it and atheism for these totalitarian nightmares but quite the reverse is the case. Thus the astute Great Dictators, taking advantage of the unrest, each resorted to Old Order ways to legitimise their fiercely illiberal anti-democratic regimes, each propagating quasi-religious regime supporting ideologies.

Thus it’s often rightly remarked that the post-Tsarist Russian experience – both Soviet and now Putin – is really just neo-Tsarist, rule by the traditional strong man.


Outcome:  Humankind’s technological break-out! An epic watershed. A 5 million year event!

The gestation was unimaginably painful but it’s now clear Modernity has delivered humankind a species-shaking watershed, an historic breakout from eons of impoverished struggle.

Technologically impelled per capita economic growth has delivered:

a/ mass prosperity, for first time in the species 5m year history, notwithstanding unfinished business,

b/ a leap in life span, longevity,

c/ a leap in quantums of leisure time,

d/ a reduction in the intensity (per capita) of intra-species violence, notwithstanding (as various researchers have observed) the 20th C setback.

e/ in most “Western” countries, much improved governance in conduct of private economic affairs, especially corporations, eg see “When Corruption and Venality Were the Lifeblood of America”, (review by Sean Wilentz NY Times,  19 Sep. 2017 of The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896, Richard White, Oxford). “White’s book ought to worsen its [The Gilded Age] already dismal reputation for sordidness and rapacity.” White’s earlier work includes “a scathing exposé of the giant post-Civil War transcontinental railroads”.

Altogether it is by far the most dramatic single change in collective circumstances in the species 5 million years history.


Outcome: now humankind capacity to respond to climate change

The other incredible outcome is that for the first time in its 5 million year history humankind can use its new collective technical prowess to react to natural challenges, especially like climate change, which phenomenon has had such dramatic consequences for homo sapiens in the past, starting of course with the inter-glacial global warming c14,000 years ago which allowed Man to blossom. Then in recorded time there have been other portentous climate interventions, like the droughts that ended the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Maya, but particularly whatever happened c1200BC to kill off a bunch of Bronze Age civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

One fascinating speculation is that the end of the Bronze Age appears to have then helped father, make space for, the eventual extraordinary proto-modern Classical Greek effloresecence (Josiah Ober’s term), a clear progenitor of the modernizing breakout in Europe near two milleniaia later.


Outlook: the Faustian bargain. No getting off the train: Man’s curiosity unleashed

However the uncovering by ingenius humankind – finally- of Modernity, can be cast as a Faustian bargain.

Modernity brings a bounty. The cup runneth over.

But it comes with a catch.


Firstly, now the process is unleashed there is no turning back, no leaving the train. Technological innovation is out of the box and humankind’s unleashed self-serving competitive curiosity will keep driving change.  We’re riding the Tyger.


Second, Modernity, driven by technical change, brings relentless economic and related changes, bringing winners but always some direct losers. So adjustment to change is constant and painful, a Sisyphean challenge.


Third, the Old Order does not go quietly, many cling to it. Modernity’s assault on, undermining and swallowing of the Old Order, tradition, is painful and disruptive.

There is a range of reactions, from active fightback to resignation.

A measure of reactionary resistance from Old Order interests, attitudes, seems inherent, reflected in Man’s appetite for the Otherworldly / supernatural,

Organised religion, well meaning or otherwise has exploited this predilection.

For many people there is tantalising appeal in belief in the “irrational”, as an antidote to the travails of life in this world, particularly among poorer and less educated people.

TS Eliot wrote in Burnt Norton, “.. human kind / Cannot bear very much reality


For some there is also nostalgic attraction to tradition, including racism and social class.


Aged only 20 Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Mary Shelley, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) published Frankenstein in 1818, as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace but was still young. It is rightly billed as a Romantic novel, reacting to the 18th C Age of Reason, an allegorical comment on the dangers of Modernity, what can go wrong.


Outlook: four propositions favouring the “Western” liberal model

It’s working

First, despite its long and painful gestation, the Unintended Consequences of Old Order resistance from within, and despite stern opposition from antagonistic threatened external forces (like the Soviet Union, the USSR, for about 45 years during the Cold War, now like the Islamist rebellion and Putin’s neo-Soviet Russia), self-evidently the Western model has delivered, is delivering


An optimum modus operandi?

Second, perhaps controversially, heroically, there’s an argument that the secular Liberal democrat model (LDM), ragged and imperfect though it may be, is basically the optimum way, the go to way, for humankind to conduct its collective affairs, and is “Western” only in sense it happened to emerge there.

So it has universal appeal or relevance akin to natural laws of physics and other sciences, and as illustrated by its take-up beyond the home countries.

A curious observation in world affairs is how many patently non or anti-democratic countries pay lip service to the “Western” model, in many of their public announcements, and also in their theatrical efforts to maintain a pretence of democracy at home, through courts, conducting some version of parliament, holding elections etc.


Inherent appeal to most educated people?

Third, supporting the second point, there’s a case that this model will have inherent appeal to a majority of educated people almost everywhere, people generally attracted to a rule of law / governance based competitive but compassionate, tolerant, democratic, rights ruled way of life.

Why? Because ultimately the the number of Good People exceeds Bad People.


This proposition is supported by history’s outcome, particularly post WW2

Obviously the core West, as in Europe and the US (and direct outliers like Canada and Australia), basically subscribes to this model and will continue to.

But particularly post WW2 the model has spread – to a greater or lesser extent – beyond the home counties, especially to parts of Asia (notably Japan, India then Korea, Indonesia, Thailand etc), and also to parts of the Americas beyond the US and Canada. The outcomes in different cases vary, are not all mirror images of Westminster, but significant nonetheless.

In particular, after the egregious practical failure of the Red Road, we have seen populous China abruptly embrace the market economic part of the “Western” liberal model, with dramatic economic and now wider consequences. Their economic modus operandi might come from an Economist essay, though of course they still keep tight reins politically, wherever that might lead.


Outlook: Europe and Islam? Western model will prevail.

Regarding alarm over Islamic migration into Europe, the talk of an existential threat, the fundamental issue is how the imported “culture” will interact.

The  influx of refugees to Europe will obviously shift the complexion of society, render it more cosmopolitan and diverse, but ultimately, and crucially, the first loyalty of the majority of the newcomers in time will likely be to some version of the progressive liberal “Western” model, not to some imported antithetical ideological regime, religious or otherwise.

Thus end of the day the “Western” model, based on reason, freedom and tolerance, seems a far greater threat to the “ten pound weakling” that is regressive Old Order illiberal theocratic Islam than vice versa.

This prospect for Europe recalls the dramatic “cultural” transformations occasioned by non-European inward migration experienced  by the US starting some while ago and by Australia in recent decades.

Islam may prove harder to digest but digested it will be, another illustration of a striking and irresistible outcome of ongoing Modernity, the swallowing of traditional cultures, or mind-sets, one way or the othert.


Outlook: much better than many think?

Where from now?

Is the outlook really so dark for the Liberal West?

Far from it. Rather, based on the demonstrated success to date of the “Western” liberal model, there is a strong case for dogged Whiggish optimism.

Barring unexpected exogenous mishaps the likely overall long term prognosis for the West is far from gloomy.

Progress remains likely, in terms of economic and social outcomes, if not always smoothly.


Outlook: but messy. Challenges of adjustment will remain, are endemic?

However the outcome will always remain turbulent to a degree, messy and sub-optimal.


Technological changeis now relentless, driven by humankind’s competitive self-interested curiosity, commercial and otherwise. This change has underwritten rising prosperity globally, and, crucially, for the first time in millions of years of history, will help humankind respond to natural challenges like climate shift.

But it also necessitates constant economic adjustment which is painful for those directly affected.


First the two major factors that impaired Modernity’s gestation remain alive, evident today, are more or less  inherent, ie

a/ an irrational if understandable appetite for the therapeutic Otherworldly (religion (eg violent theocratic Islamism) and otherwise),

and b/ residual (if spurious) belief in race and class carrying inherited differentiating characteristics ,

The Radical Enlightenment, arguing the case to its logical conclusion,  attacked both.


Second, posterity will always have to cope with Bad Boys.


Outlook: risks of “mishaps”, an their Unintended Consequences.

There’s a case that WW1 need not have happened. However once triggered, by a sequence of events starting in Sarajevo, the Unintended Consequences were devastating, especially for all those directly affected, the victims and their families.

The ill-fated 2003 US intervention in Iraq (compounded by Libya 2011) is shaping as another major unnecessary “mishap”, with costly Unintended Consequences. For some protgonists the intervention was well-intentioned, seeking to evict violent dictators but reality is it has unleashed a sustained violent backlash from Old Order interests. Thus it has stoked intra-Islamic Shia-Sunni violence, and has triggered resentful Islamist violence against the West. The strong Old Order religious reality is that Iraq was no candidate for early adoption of anything like the “Western” liberal model.

However Modernity survived WW1 (and its corollaries like the Russian Revolution), and will survive the 2003 intervention, if at a cost.

However the rise of China, in particular, has for some resurrected the so called Thucydides Trap, the notion that its rise will somehow bring inevitable conflict with the US as the pre-eminent global power (much as ancient Athens and Sparta squared off, disastrously). WW1 is another popular example, with then Europebeing unable to accommodate peacefully the rise of Germany.

Yes there are dangers accommodating China but China has a pressing interest in avoiding serious conflict.