New in the Collection: Ernst Wilhelm Nay

The collection of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is strongest in 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century European and American paintings, sculptures, prints, installations, and photographs and has recently become stronger still through the acquisition of two paintings by one of the most important German artists of the mid-20th century.

Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Composition, 1963. Watercolor and ink on paper, 16 3/8 x 23 3/4". Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. Gift of Commerce Bancshares, Inc., in honor of Laura Kemper Fields, 2013.

Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Composition, 1963. Watercolor and ink on paper, 16 3/8 x 23 3/4″. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. Gift of Commerce Bancshares, Inc., in honor of Laura Kemper Fields, 2013.

This spring, Commerce Bancshares Inc. finalized the gift of Terz (1962) and Composition (1963) by Ernst Wilhelm Nay to the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. The parent company of Commerce Bank acquired the paintings in 1972 and has displayed them at the bank’s headquarters in Kansas City and St. Louis. The gift honors Mildred Lane Kemper’s daughter, Laura Kemper Fields, who died January 9, 2014.

Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902-1968) was interested in art from an early age. He taught himself drawing and painting and then studied under Carl Hoffer at the Akademie für bildende Künste for several years before continuing his artistic education in Paris and Rome. His expressive realist canvases earned him praise, including the Prix de Rome in 1931. However, Nay’s success was cut short by the National Socialist Party, which included two of his paintings in the infamous Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937. Shortly thereafter, the artist was drafted into the German army, but continued to secretly create artwork during his service. His work following the war in the 1950s and 60s represents the maturation of his abstract visual language and full exploration of color.

Terz

Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Terz, 1962. Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 23 3/4″. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. Gift of Commerce Bancshares, Inc., in honor of Laura Kemper Fields, 2013.

“Nay is one of the best-known German Abstract Expressionist painters, an artistic movement called Art Informell,” said Sabine Eckmann, PhD, the William T. Kemper director and chief curator of the Kemper Art Museum. “Together with his American counterparts, he exhibited at the important international contemporary art exhibition ‘documenta II’ and ‘documenta III,’ in 1959 and 1964, respectively.” However, despite his artistic success in Europe, his work is less well known in the United States. That may change following notable exhibitions at Mary Boone Gallery and Michael Werner Gallery in New York (2012) that surveyed the artist’s career.

“Nay’s work serves as a bridge to the gestural abstraction of American post-war artists like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, as well as European practitioners like Pierre Soulages and Karel Appel, who are also included in the Museum’s collection,” Eckmann added. “We are deeply grateful for this gift.”

By Allison Fricke (Thursday, June 5, 2014)

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