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  • Provocative and visceral, Forstarbeiter embodies the foundational impact of Georg Baselitz’s practice as he pushed the limits of figurative painting to new heights. Painted in 1967, the present work is a quintessential example of Baselitz’s seminal series Frakturbilder (Fracture Paintings) in which the figures of his preceding Heroes paintings began to gradually unravel into abstracted twists and turns. In Forstarbeiter, the figure of the eponymous forester is seemingly captured in a moment of disintegration; axe in hand and feet perched atop a logged tree, his fractured form braids in and out of the lushly painted landscape. It is in works such as Forstarbeiter and its sister painting Lockenkopf (Curly Head), 1967, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, that the radical and pioneering nature of Baselitz’s art is palpable. These works not only show an artist grappling with existential themes of the self vis-à-vis the weight of history, they also demonstrate the daring experimentation with which Baselitz probed the formal and conceptual possibilities of painting throughout the 1960s—famously culminating in his trademark upside-down portraits and landscapes.

     

    Georg Baselitz in his studio in Osthofen, 1966.
    Georg Baselitz in his studio in Osthofen, 1966.

    Against all Order

     

    Works such as Forstarbeiter illustrate how Baselitz resolutely pursued his own distinct path during a time when the art world was in thrall of minimalist abstraction, the glossy allure of Pop and the intellectual heft of conceptualism. It was in this context that Baselitz embraced an expressive and gestural figurative vernacular and examined, with an unflinching gaze, the past and present of post-war Germany: a divided nation grappling at once with collective culpability for the atrocities of the Nazi regime, and a climate of sharply diverging political systems and ideologies.

     

    Georg Baselitz, Curly Head (Lockenkopf), 1967. Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, Artwork © 2020 Georg Baselitz
    Georg Baselitz, Curly Head (Lockenkopf), 1967. Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, Artwork © 2020 Georg Baselitz

    Born shortly before the outbreak of the World War II, Baselitz was raised under the weight of history and found himself in a state of disillusionment while making his way as a young artist in the brave new world of West Germany, having fled to West Berlin from the communist East Germany in the late 1950s. “I was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed people, a destroyed society,” Baselitz recalled, “and I didn’t want to re-establish an order: I’d seen enough of so-called order.”i  

     

    Seeking to liberate himself from predetermined models of thought, Baselitz forged a new figurative style based on collective history and personal memory in a context that was divided between the orthodoxies of Eastern Socialist Realism and the newfound liberation of Western abstraction. His breakthrough paintings of the early 1960s declared the arrival of a brazen artist who unapologetically challenged all convention and authority. 

    "I’d seen enough of so-called order."
    — Georg Baselitz  

     

    Executed between 1966 and 1969, Baselitz’s Fracture Paintings represent a key milestone in Baselitz’s practice, exemplifying the remarkable degree of formal experimentation with which he continued to develop the themes first introduced in his Heroes and New Types series from 1965-1966. In his transition from these earlier bodies of work to the Fracture Paintings, apocalyptic scenes gave way to pastoral landscapes and the epic, suffering heroes of modern life were supplanted by woodsmen, hunters, and animals. In Forstarbeiter, as well as related works such as Lockenkopf and Waldarbeiter (Woodman), 1969, The Art Institute of Chicago, arboreal imagery takes on a rich symbolism: signifying the very icon of German Romanticism, the felled trees index Baselitz’s break with art history, but they also conjure a palpable sense of inflicted violence that is heightened by the fragmentation of the human body.

     

    An Attack on Art History

     

    In his attack on the bastion of modernism in Forstarbeiter, Baselitz notably channels the key tenets of the largely 16th century movement of Mannerism, which he became intimately familiar with during his six-month scholarship in Florence in 1965. Driven by the iconoclastic impulse to destroy the classical ideal, the Mannerists subverted earlier Renaissance painting’s emphasis on proportion and beauty by embracing exaggeration, artifice, compositional tension, and instability. Baselitz’s twisted, turning, and fractured figures betray a deep affinity with his Mannerist forebears—harkening back to such precedents as Jacopo Pontormo’s Saint Jerome Penitent, ca. 1525, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover, as well as the etchings of Juste de Juste and Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio.

     

    Jacopo Pontormo, Saint Jerome Penitent, circa 1525. Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover
    Jacopo Pontormo, Saint Jerome Penitent, circa 1525. Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover

    Recalling the Cubists’ fractured representations, Baselitz further segments his subjects into horizontal bands or fragments. The resulting dissonant planes deliberately upend conventions of perspective and pictorial unity, conjuring the psychological disorientation of a society grappling with the partitioning of their war-torn nation. 

     

    Baselitz’s process of disfiguration and fracturing effectively foregrounds the autonomy of the painterly process. Importantly, it is in these Fracture Paintings that Baselitz started to explore the artistic strategy of inversion—first seen in Waldarbeiter (Woodsmen) before the artist would fully interrogate this beginning in 1969.  

    "These [Fracture Paintings] represent a new form of Cubism with German content and color symbolism."
    — Norman Rosenthal 

    Georg Baselitz, Forester (Paranoiamarsch), 1967. Artwork © 2020 Georg Baselitz

     

    A Career-Altering Friendship

     

    By the time Baselitz had painted Forstarbeiter in 1967, his expressionistic approach and provocative subject matter had already garnered him acclaim—and notoriety—in the German art world. Just three years earlier, in 1964, his controversial Die Grosse Nacht im Eimer (Big Night Down the Drain), 1962-1963, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, had been famously confiscated on grounds of immorality from his first solo exhibition at Galerie Werner & Katz in Berlin. As news travelled fast, the young gallerist Franz Dahlem immediately became intrigued by this story of censorship. Based in Munich, Dahlem together with Heiner Friedrich ran the legendary Galerie Friedrich & Dahlem out of a first-floor apartment where they showed the work of pioneering artists such as Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, and Joseph Beuys long before they had become fully established in the post-war art world. 

     

    Georg Baselitz and Franz Dahlem photographed at Baselitz, Kunstverein Hamburg, April 20 – March 21, 1972. Artwork © 2020 Georg Baselitz
    Georg Baselitz and Franz Dahlem photographed at Baselitz, Kunstverein Hamburg, April 20 – March 21, 1972. Artwork © 2020 Georg Baselitz

    Dahlem first met Baselitz in Munich in 1965, when the young artist was returning from his stay in Florence. Soon thereafter, Dahlem and Friedrich made the trip to Berlin to visit the artist’s studio, marking the start of both a decade-long friendship and intimate working relationship. Even after Friedrich and Dahlem parted ways in 1966, Dahlem continued to support and champion Baselitz’s work: first placing it with the gallery Tobiès & Silex in the first iterations of the art fair Art Cologne, and then organizing Baselitz’s first exhibition of upside-down paintings at the Galeriehaus in 1970.

     

    i Georg Baselitz, quoted in Detlev Gretenkort, ed., Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, London, 2010, p. 242.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Franz Dahlem, Darmstadt
      Dr. F. Röhrscheid, Bad Homburg
      Galerie Franz Dahlem, Darmstadt
      Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1980

    • Exhibited

      Cologne, Tobiès & Silex, Georg Baselitz - Bilder 1962 – 1970, December 22, 1971 - February 28, 1972, no. 10, n.p. (illustrated)

Property of a Distinguished European Collector

29

Forstarbeiter

signed "Baselitz" lower left; signed and inscribed "G. Baselitz Nr. 2" on the stretcher; further signed, titled and dated "G. Baselitz '67 "Forstarbeiter"" on the reverse
oil on canvas, in artist's frame
64 3/4 x 52 in. (164.5 x 132.2 cm)
Painted in 1967.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$1,800,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,087,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected] 


 

20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020