Briefly a member of Die Brücke (The Bridge), the Dresden/Berlin-based group of German Expressionist artists, Emil Nolde wrote that he was interested in the "grotesque expression of power" and "elemental force."
Masks embodies these concerns. Here, the artist uses bold, expressive color applied with spontaneous strokes of the brush to heighten the energy and emotional intensity of the painting. Two carnival masks appear in the center of the image. Another, on the far left, was inspired by a Solomon Islands canoe prow, and the mask at the lower right depicts the shrunken head of a Yoruna Indian from the Mundurucu people of Brazil. Both the canoe prow and shrunken head are in the collection of Berlin's Museum of Ethnology, where Nolde studied and sketched them.