Emil Nolde’s “Dance Around the Golden Calf,” created in 1910, is an eclectic painting that fuses both expressionism and formalism. This artwork depicts a biblical narrative from the Old Testament where Israelites created a golden calf while Moses was away on Mount Sinai. The painting represents a grave religious crisis, as people lost faith in Moses and turned to the idol instead.
The exuberant figures in the foreground of the painting engage in wanton excess while dancing before the false idol. Nolde’s interest in religious paintings is evident as he has created several biblical-inspired pieces. Emil Nolde was a German-Danish painter and printmaker who was one of the early expressionists. His works often contain mystical, fantastical, and religious symbolism along with erotic frenzies and demonic mask-like faces.
Nolde found inspiration from Primitive art like many other artists of his time which reflects on his deliberately crude draftsmanship techniques used to depict dramatic scenes like those present in “Dance Around the Golden Calf.” The blend of formalism with expressive brushwork adds depth to this piece of art, allowing viewers to feel both intimacy towards its sentimentality and acute awareness of its critical message.