Ernst Wilhelm Nay

  • Born 1902 in Berlin, Germany
  • Died 1968 in Cologne, Germany

From 1925 to 1928 Ernst Wilhelm Nay studied painting at the Hochschule der Künste (College of Arte) Berlin under the tutelage of the German Expressionist painter Karl Hofer (1878–1955). Nay was particularly interested in the paintings of Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938), Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). Nay traveled to Rome in 1931 to study at the German Art Institute (known as the Villa Massimo), and in 1937, through a grant given by Edvard Munch (1863–1944), he studied in Norway. That same year, Nay’s paintings were included in the infamous Nazi-organized exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) in Germany. His ability to paint and exhibit was severely curtailed at that time. Nay was conscripted in 1940 and went with the German infantry to France, where he painted in secret in a French artist’s studio. From 1945 to 1948 Nay’s work explored myth and poetry, grappling with the trauma of World War II. In 1950, Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover organized Nay’s first retrospective. Nay work became completely non-representational after he moved to Cologne in 1951. His work was shown in the Venice Biennale (1956) and Documenta, Kassel (1955; 1959; 1964).

Artworks by Ernst Wilhelm Nay in the exhibition