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Ernst Wilhelm NAY


Ernst Wilhelm NAY


Born into a family of Berlin civil servants, Nay was the second son in a family of six children. He began an apprenticeship as a bookseller in the Berlin bookshop Gsellius, which he quit after one year. After that, he lived off odd jobs and began to paint self-portraits and landscapes. In 1924, he presented three of his self-painted pictures to Karl Hofer at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. Hofer recognised Nay's talent, granted him a scholarship and included him in his painting class. At the school, Nay met his future wife, Helene (Elly) Kirchner, who worked there as a model. He finished his studies in 1928.

After a first study trip to Paris, the art historian Georg Carl Heise offered him a scholarship for a stay in Bornholm in 1930, where he created the "beach paintings". A year later, he was awarded the Villa Massimo scholarship from the Prussian Academy of Arts in Rome, where he produced small-format pictures with surrealist and abstract forms. In 1932, Nay married Elly Kirchner. The following year he took part in the exhibition "Living German Art" in the Alfred Flechtheim and Paul Cassirer galleries. In a critical article by the National Socialists in the "Volkischer Beobachter" of 25 February 1933, his painting "Liebespaar" was described in 1930 as a "masterpiece of vulgarity". During the summer stays in 1935-1936 at the Baltic Sea in Vietzkerstrand (Pomerania), the first important phase of the "Thin and Fischer paintings", 1934-1936, also large-scale pen and ink drawings, the "fishermen's drawings", emerged. In 1937, two of his paintings were shown in the exhibition "Degenerate Art". Through Heise, Nay received financial support from Edvard Munch, which enabled him to travel to the Norwegian Lofoten Islands, where he produced large-scale watercolours. The "Lofoten-Bilder" (1937-1938) were created in the Berlin studio from the motifs of these watercolours.

In 1940, he was forced (partly for financial reasons) into military service. He first arrived as an infantryman in the south of France, then in Brittany and in 1942 he was transferred to Le Mans as a cardboard maker. There he met the amateur sculptor Pierre de Térouanne, who provided him with his workshop and even painting equipment. During these years, several small oil paintings and numerous works on paper were produced. In 1944, Hans Lühdorf wrote a diary account of Nay's artistic work in Le Mans.

After the war, Nay created the "Hekatebilder" from 1945 to 1949, followed by the "Fugal pictures" from 1949 to 1951.

In 1950, a first retrospective exhibition of the artist's work took place at the Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hanover. A year later, he moved to Cologne, which remained his home until his death. In the artist's best-known paintings, the "Scheibenbildern" (1954-1962), the circular form of the disc becomes the dominant motif in all its modifications. The most striking example is the mural "Freiburger Bild" (2.55 x 6.55 m), painted in 1956 for the Institute of Chemistry at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg.

His first solo exhibition in the United States was in 1955, followed a year later by a solo exhibition in the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale.) He participated in documenta I (1955), II (1959) and III (1964). In 1960, the German art historian Werner Haftmann published Nay's first monograph.

Nay died in 1968 at his home in Cologne of heart failure. He is buried in the Cologne Melaten cemetery.

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Two galleries in Paris

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