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There was this sailor with a ship, a smaller one indeed, but it could sail a good course even in troubled water. The sailor thought, that he was good to sail, but sometimes he got the impression, that the ship sailed more with him as he did sail the ship. What unfortunately always was unpredictable, was the sea and the weather while sailing.

– Emil Nolde: Sea in the Evening Light – from the series of unpainted paintings 1938-1945, while Nolde frequently was controlled by the Nazis, who had marked his work as “Degenerate art”. He therefore painted small paintings, which could be hidden fast, and with watercolors, which didn’t smell as much as oil colors did.

But he loved to float over the water in his ship. It could feel as if he was flying and even was losing the contact with both the ship and the water without noticing it. Maybe he did fly, he sometimes thought. It would be worth a try once to stand on the highest spot of the ship and to spread the arms and to fly away.

Only he knew, that would be against the physics: He had to put up with the ship and to navigate it properly. He also loved the ship. It was old fashioned, with a few shining metals to light up the scene. And he had gotten it cheap, or did he at all ever get it. As long as he could remember he always had been with this ship. They were likely grown together.

Apart from the weather and the water there also was the horizont. That was the most mysterious experience of sailing: To keep an eye on the horizon and at times to wonder what was taking shape there far away. It could look like an ugly beast when he approached another and much bigger ship or a piece of land. On the other hand there could seem to be a beautiful angel in the far, when a new cloud constellation was in view.

Emil Nolde: Stormy Sea

Emil Nolde: Stormy Sea

In hard weather the ship was noisy and wriggling, in good weather it was quiet and calm. So, when in storms or such, he pretty much felt the ship being a strange part of him with much too much disturbance around him and making him feel uncomfortable. And when in smooth weather, he didn’t always take notice of it and it’s existence at all and he felt complete and satisfied.

It could be a problem for him to abandon the ship. He could feel highly nervous and tensed about stepping onto solid ground and to enter this nowhere land, which opened for him. It also felt as if the ship was talking to him in such situations, when he needed to get new water or food from the marina. The ship then kinda asked him, whether this is necessary at all. There was a way to convince the ship of the need to go on land, when he mentioned, that he also would get paint for some damaged sites of the ship’s body colors.


One of the most essential things he had learned was to keep the ship in move. It didn’t like to be anchored or sailed in a harbour or even to be dragged on land for maintenance. It was as if good time for the ship only was the sailing time. And the sailor in a way agreed with the ship, as he also was so used to sail, that he hardly could imagine another or a better activity. But it could feel like a pressure to have to sail out so much to keep the ship happy.

For a reason or for no reason once while sailing as usual with the ship in actually quite good weather a second ship was on the course. He saw the other cute ship right there straight ahead and so did his ship as well. But his ship didn’t consider the other ship interesting or attracting at all and called for course correction. Or was it afraid of the sailor’s maybe anyway missing competencies to pass the other ship properly or even in fear for an unpleasant meeting with another sailor on high sea?

The ship started commenting the bad shape of painting of the other ship and claimed of the sailor to keep on distance – but this time, the sailor decided not to respond to or to follow the ship. To him something sparkling and a pretty and shiny light had raised from the other ship and he couldn’t avoid to be dragged towards it.

In very few moments he was nearby and slowing down his ship’s pace to get in touch. He had to agree with his ship’s comments, that the other ship’s state wasn’t the best, but there was something which now explained the glamorous lightning he had noticed before and which had made him ignore his ship’s voice: A beautiful woman was sailing this other ship and she also slowed down her ship’s pace for a meeting.

Michael Großpietsch, 2013
Emil Nolde: Sunrise at the Sea, 1927

Emil Nolde: Sunrise at the Sea, 1927