Georg Baselitz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'At a certain point I had this idea to bring a completely different and radical point of view to painting: to put the paintings upside down, to get away from the idea of realistic depiction and to focus on painting itself.'
    —Georg Baselitz 
    In its depiction of a sensuously rendered female figure set against a delicately adorned lavender ground, Georg Baselitz’s Torso Frau represents a unique and lyrical moment in a career spanning six decades. Perhaps best known for his series of ‘Hero’ paintings, in which his roughly hewn male warriors bristle with post-war angst and gladiatorial presence, Baselitz here presents an extremely rare and more serene female subject in a moment of meditative repose. Torso Frau sits at a crucial moment in the artist’s career in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which Baselitz began looking to more expressionist brushwork and folkloric source material, here incorporating a fabric-like pattern to anchor his female figure. Departing from his previous focus on human representation and investigation of the relationship between figure and ground, Baselitz became increasingly interested in colour, shape, line and brushstroke. Executed on a larger-than-life scale and shifting between figuration and abstraction Torso Frau represents a high note in Baselitz’s treatment of the inverted figure, his highly celebrated series strongly represented in his landmark solo exhibition in 1990, and again more recently in the retrospective hosted by Musée National d’Art Moderne - Centre Pompidou which closed earlier this year.

    Since the 1960s, Baselitz has interrogated and reshaped the tradition of figurative painting again and again: fracturing his ‘Heroes,’ inverting his sitters, and exaggerating and distorting the human form. In the present work, Baselitz reprises his best-known corpus of inverted figures with chromatic brilliance and abandon. The artist’s search for renewal in a devasted post-war Europe pointed him to Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, from whom he took great influence and inspiration. Finding a mutual interest in psychological mutilation and anxiety, Baselitz – like Munch – became fascinated with art’s power to symbolize feelings and states of mind.


    Edvard Munch, Girl Crying IV, 1907, Munch-Museet, Oslo. Image: akg-images

    Baselitz’s deep appreciation for his Expressionist and Symbolist forbear is best understood by the energetically rendered figures that dominate the artist’s output of the 1980s; by that time, Baselitz had introduced his signature inverted figure, physically and psychologically displacing his subjects in a reflection of the contemporary human condition. Of the artist’s uncanny ability to delve into our minds and mental states, Kevin Powers writes: ‘Baselitz’s art is not one of strategies but of aggravated history. It is his story, his way of taking a ‘‘measure’’ of our times. He feels his way through sensations, memories, pain, through the present, and through the past. This is his primordial ‘‘paste.’’ He makes us aware of our own passional existence and extends us beyond what we know of ourselves.’i


    Set against this ethereal, gossamer ground, the inverted figure of Torso Frau takes on a distinctly sculptural and almost mythic presence. Distinguished by the tender treatment of the subject suspended in this lavender landscape, the present work brings together the traditions of figurative and abstract painting in a lush resolution of colour and pattern. Calligraphic dashes of burgundy paint torque and twist into themselves, recalling flowers, hieroglyphs, and calligraphic characters. Spaced regularly across a gossamer backdrop of light plums and violets, these floral marks resolve into an ornamental pattern that exemplifies the inspiration and delight Baselitz took from embroidered silks and folk art. Beneath the sensual and sculpted form of the torso, this tapestry of prismatic purple appears to billow and shift; she is Eve, the Woman of Willendorf, the Madonna, and Mother Nature, the archetypal female figure and the origin of the world. Recalling the forceful abstraction of de Kooning’s nudes, Baselitz builds the body from gestural brushstrokes of raw pigment, juxtaposing fleshy tonality with vibrant green and orange. The vigorous abandon and battle-readiness of his heroes have here been replaced with a tranquillity and soft beauty extremely unique within the artist’s painterly practice.


    Willem de Kooning, Woman IV, 1952 – 53, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas. Image: akg-images / Album / Prisma, Artwork: © Willem de Kooning Revocable Trust/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022

    Over twenty years old, Torso Frau remains a significant and strikingly modern work, characteristics that exemplify the very best of Baselitz’s oeuvre. The artist’s need to forge his own type of artistic production cannot be understood outside the context of Germany’s post-war landscape. Raised in the austerity of communist East Germany, Baselitz moved to West Germany before the erection of the Berlin Wall; distanced from the ethos of East Germany’s dominant Social Realist style, Baselitz had the freedom to delve into the Abstract Expressionist trends more prevalent in the West. The artist, however, found himself uninspired by either and instead identified as an outsider. Indeed, this sense of psychological distance and isolation haunt the figure of Torso Frau, her body detached from any identifiable location and instead floating against the flattened space of an abstracted world. 

    It is this disruption and rejuvenation of the art historical canon that sets Baselitz apart; dissatisfied with traditions and contemporary styles, Baselitz instead forges his own path, destabilizing the techniques of figurative painting and forcing representation and abstraction together. Norman Rosenthal writes: ‘Standing within the long tradition of German art, and using time-honoured media, Baselitz has striven constantly to confront the realities of history and art history, to make them new and fresh in a manner that can only be described as heroic; heroic because his art has consciously gone against the grain of fashion, while always remaining modern. For Baselitz, the artist must be always an outsider, a worker and also, in a certain sense, a prince.’ii

    Collector’s Digest

    •    One of the most significant German artists to emerge from the post-war era, Georg Baselitz’s painting is rooted in these cultural contexts. 

    •    Baselitz’s works are included in the permanent collections of The Tate Gallery in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Fondation Beyerler in Basel, and the Berlinsche Galerie, amongst others. 

    •    The subject of many solo exhibitions in cities around the world including New York, London, Paris, Berlin, and Hong Kong, he has most recently been honoured with a significant retrospective at the Musée National d’Art Moderne - Centre Pompidou which explored his six-decade career in detail. 

    i Kevin Power, ‘Hanging Between Analysis and Chaos,’ (exh. cat.), Hammergreen: New Paintings by Georg Baselitz London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, 1991, pp. 5-6. 
    ii Norman Rosenthal, ‘Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter,’ (exh. cat.), Baselitz , London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2007, p. 15. 

    • Provenance

      Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
      Robert and Ann Fisher, United Kingdom (acquired from the above in 1999)
      Olyvia Fine Art, London (2013-2014)
      Michael Hall Collection, Palm Beach
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Georg Baselitz. New Paintings, 19 March - 24 March 1999, no. 5, pp. 26, 39 (illustrated, p. 27)


Torso Frau

signed, titled and dated '.G. Baselitz' 19.IV.98 Torso Frau' on the reverse
oil on canvas
200 x 162 cm (78 3/4 x 63 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1998.

Full Cataloguing

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡♠

Sold for £478,800

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022