Ein Werktätiger

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  • Provenance

    Michael Hille, Berlin
    Galerie Michael Haas, Berlin
    Galerie Neher, Essen
    Private Collection, Dusseldorf
    Galerie Brigitte Ihsen, Cologne (acquired from the above in 1996)
    Galerie Paul Maenz, Cologne
    Phillips, New York, 18 May 2000, lot 30
    Private Collection
    Christie's, London, 20 June 2007, lot 338
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Confronted by entrails of impasto, dissected by the cleaver yielding figure of the hunter, Ein Werktätiger is pivotal to Georg Baselitz’s experimentations with pictorial order and manipulation of subject matter. Through self-imposed obstacles, fracturing and later inverting works, Baselitz became intimately involved with the painting, expressionistically applying paint to reveal its grossest materiality. From 1966 to 1969 Baselitz painted a series of Frakturbilder, employing various strategies of destruction to fragment his subject matter. The direct antecedent of the inverted works the Frakturbilder mark Baselitz’s move towards an exploration of how objects are perceived. In Ein Werktätiger, the artist has selected an image which is already explicitly fragmented. The distorted nature of the objects, deformed entrails spilling across the canvas, justifies Baselitz's violent manipulation of form. This contextualisation channels the work with meaning and transports the viewer into a darker psychic space. Fractured lines are repeatedly distributed across the composition and despite the distortion and destruction, the figure of the worker is clearly evident in the upper left. Baselitz employed various devices to destruct his fractured paintings, cutting through the pictorial field, fracturing disparate elements, dividing perception and displacing elements of the subject matter. Unlike other fracture works, the pictorial field of the present lot has not been cut; the fluidity of the gestures and the use of crude and heightened palette convey raw emotion in line with the tradition of the German Expressionist painters from whom Baselitz drew great influence.
    Addressing German history and effects of the Holocaust, Baselitz’s output echoed styles which had been denounced by the Nazi’s as ‘entartete Kunst’. The artist employed a form of expressive distortion to experiment with the difficult facades of cultural memory and the national psyche; drawing upon national stereotypes with expressive brush strokes and bold colours. Despite his rejection of any connection to Expressionism, Baselitz brought the human figure back into painting, reviving the emotional expressionistic tradition of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann. Haunted by the sombre nature of his seminal Hero paintings, following his move from Berlin to the German countryside of Swabia in 1966, the artist further engaged with traditional German motifs such as huntsmen, woodlands, bears, dogs and cows in his celebrated Frakturbilder. Through altering the iconic meaning of his heroic subjects, Baselitz removed the symbolic potency. Surgically distorting the subject matter the artist deconstructed motifs that had once been so proudly Germanic.
    The flattening of perspective and shocking twisted and distorted forms are reminiscent of the earlier northern tradition of Hieronymus Bosch and Baselitz’s personal collection of sixteenth century woodcuts and prints. Pairing beauty and ugliness, the artist reconciles past and present, never allowing ‘his marks to become calligraphy, that is, to become beautiful in themselves. Each attains its own ugliness […]. Oversized, coarsened, each pulls apart from its neighbour even when it is part of a decorative pattern, resulting in pockets of local disharmony’ (Richard Schiff in Baselitz, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, p. 27). The Frakturbilderpresent the painting as a ruin, in which both the action of building and destroying takes place simultaneously. Here, Baselitz layers subject matter, as the knife-yielding worker hacks away at intestines, while his blade independently dissects the bloodied entrails. The fracturing process declares the autonomy of the image over the subject of the painting; the content, whilst still prominent, becomes subordinated to stylistic explorations. The masterful control of order within Ein Werktätiger, a painterly assemblage of different elements, presents Baselitz’s pictorial experimentations, encapsulating the world’s splintered complexity and multidimensionality.


Ein Werktätiger

signed 'Baselitz' lower left; further titled and dated '"Ein Werktätiger" '67' on the overlap
oil on paper laid on canvas
99.9 x 80.9 cm (39 3/8 x 31 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1967.

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £485,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 29 June 2017