Emil Nolde’s “Masks and Dahlias”, (1919) – When Monarchs Became Outdated (Solemnly Became Part Of Still Life), And “People Took On The Responsibility For Their Destiny”

Death Of Masks As Human Faces’ Psychological Essence

When Gods as personages of human soul, monarchs as decision-makers, and religious and secular intellectuals became outmoded, and regular people took the responsibility for the destiny of humankind by squabbling for success of personal and group survival…

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E. Nolde, Masks and Dahlias, 1919

When a king became a flower in a bouquet which itself became a part of a still life of human historical memory, liberated man and emancipated woman (both painted by Nolde with some “pan-mongolistic” hint, above king’s head – alive or a part of king’s corpse), find themselves in close proximity with devil. Of course, regular people were always sinning, but now they found themselves in the friendly company of devil, which stopped to be the prerogative of the kings and dukes.

Only the king in Nolde’s “Masks and Dahlias” has traditional mask (emphasizing, according to the painter, an essence of human soul). The mask-face of the devil Nolde intentionally made under-expressive – let’s not forget that devil is not more than an (over-powerful) robot of human invention, but masks of the man and woman are not expressive at all. These two neo-human (post-monarchic) masks are faces without souls, faces as a tautology – as identical with their surface, with their appearance.

If gods are aggrandized but profound aspects of the human soul, human face is the area where gods meet humans, and then this encounter is registered by the facial expressiveness of the traditional masks. King’s face-mask has a tormented expression. King became a dahlia in the bouquet of dahlias – is transformed into this late summer-middle autumn flower (Nolde intentionally paints dahlias generically, as if they have lost particularity and on the way of being wilted – the human historical memory is prone to dry up).

The self-identity of the two “just human” faces – the man and the woman’s are the faces of the deprived – crumbled and thrown away souls. Whom exactly do these faces without facial expression can belong to? Today’s analogy would be – the nominees for the new Cabinet of Ministers – chosen by the imp-named-trump – this post-demiurge of post-politics. On the other hand, the king’s mask/face is still with emotional code, face pained by his pre- or post-death solitude, with powerlessly maniacal and at the same time – a phobic expression.

Let’s take our hats off before the cruel but human past killed by the present for the sake of future without human facial expression, without non-entertaining/non-advertising/non-propagandizing art, without soul in the permanent tormenting fight with itself, with banal generic robotic faces of Nolde’s dahlias, males and females.

And only alert statuette as part of still life (nature morte) – the punctum of the painting pointing at the alternative to the solemn death of alive history. It is the potential of life in what is still life, a potential, which is all that we today, in the 21st century, can rely on. It is nothing more than a potential of life inside that which is non-life. May be, Nolde’s painting of non-life (nature morte), is saving our vitality by coding it into sign of life.