Ernst Wilhelm Nay (born in Berlin in 1902), one of the most renowned German artists of the 20th Century, studied painting in the mid-twenties at the Berlin Academy for Fine Arts under the painter Carl Hofer. He achieved his first success in the late 1920s when his paintings began to be purchased by major German museums, on the basis of his strongly individual combination of Expressionist and Surrealist painting styles.
In 1942 Nay was stationed in Le Mans as a soldier and cartographer. A French sculptor placed his atelier at Nay's disposal and enabled him to continue working as an artist in secret, producing works in an intense Expressionist style. In 1950 the Kestner Gesellschaft Hannover mounted a first retrospective of Nay's work. The following year the artist moved to Cologne, where he developed an abstract language of painting combining a highly expressive graphic style and a deep sensitivity to colour and tonality. In his Rhythmic Paintings (1952-1953) Nay took the final step towards entirely non-representational painting placing colour purely as figurative values. Representing Germany in the 1956 Venice Biennale and exhibiting at the Kassel documenta (1955, 1959 and 1964) are milestones marking Nay's breakthrough on the international art scene. He especially received international recognition for his Disc Paintings (1954-1962), in which round colour surfaces organize subtle modulations of space and colour. These paintings were developed further in 1963/64 in what became known as the Eye Paintings.
The following winter 1964/65 Nay began to develop his late style in his atelier in Bavaria: Color remained central, but now he simplified forms and cooled his palette—sometimes applying daring color combinations—to create spaceless compositions. Nay’s Late Paintings, are characterized by dynamically set two-dimensional forms and clear colors transcending the pictorial space. In April 1968 Nay died in Cologne.