09 November 2013 – 04 JanuarY 2014

Michael Werner Kunsthandel is delighted to be hosting Ernst Wilhelm Nay’s paintings in a comprehensive showcase of his work. Over 20 years ago Museum Ludwig presented the last retrospective exhibition in the Rhineland, while the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt exhibited a review dedicated to his work in 2009. Ernst Wilhelm Ney is considered to be one of the most important representatives of 20th century art in Germany. In 1937, a large number of his pictures from public collections were branded as “Degenerate Art” and confiscated by the Nazis. Two of these works were later shown at a subsequent exhibition in Munich. From as early as 1933, his art work had been derided by Nazi propaganda. In 1951 the artist moved to Cologne, where he lived and worked until his death in 1968.

Following the success of the exhibition of his later pictures in our New York gallery last year, it has now become possible to present a retrospective here in Cologne covering his life work. The earliest works such as ‘DĂĽnenlandschaft’ (1935) and ‘Familie nachts am Meer’ (1935), belong to his series of dunes and fishing pictures that were inspired during the summer he spent at the Baltic Sea and the life of the fishermen there. It was during this time that Nay developed new compositional forms that were to remain significant right through to his later works. ‘Liegende’ (1943) is an exemplary piece representing his artistic exploration of the human body at the beginning of the 1940s. John-Paul Stonard sees the human body as an essential aspect of all Nay’s artistic achievement, even if he is frequently seen as an purely abstract painter: “No matter how abstract his work seems to become, all Nay’s paintings are deeply rooted in an exploration of the human body (…) This physical element is quintessential for Nay”. Nay’s international breakthrough came in the mid-1950s with his ‘Scheibenbilder’ series, of which three large pictures can now be seen in Cologne. During these years, Nay seemed to free himself entirely from representation and yet his later works testify to a consistent development throughout, right up to the late 1960s. In the last years of his life his pictures underwent a noticeable shift. As from 1965, his paintings became increasingly characterized by two-dimensional and ornamental figurations and a tendency to simplify stylistic elements and reduce the colour range. Two monumental preparatory works for ‘Der Morgen’ (1965), which have never before been exhibited in public, are now on show for the first time in Cologne. 

A catalogue with an article by John-Paul Stonard has been published to accompany this exhibition.