Georg Baselitz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'If you stop fabricating motifs but still want to carry on painting, then inverting the motif is the obvious thing to do. The hierarchy which has the sky at the top and the earth at the bottom is, in any case, only a convention. We have got used to it, but we don’t have to believe in it.'
    —Georg Baselitz
    Frequently mythologised as a ‘heroic’ German painter, born on the cusp of the Second World War and raised in the rubble and destruction it left in its wake, Georg Baselitz rejected both the dogma of Socialist Realism and the claims to freedom made by the then-dominant movements of Abstract Expressionism, Tachisme and Nouveau Réalisme in these early years of his pioneering practice. Capturing some of the central concerns of this post-war generation of German artists, Baselitz sought ways to see the world differently, and to confront the collective trauma of Germany’s recent past. Executed in 1970 and depicting an inverted landscape combining dense foliage and more industrial imagery, Ohne Titel (Landschaft) represents an important, early example of this defining shift in the artist’s practice and his attempts to draw attention to the painting ‘as a self-contained object without completely abandoning tradition’.i Breaking with conventional rules of pictorial perspective and using non-traditional materials such as awning fabric ground and ‘very cheap synthetic resin paint […] dispersion paints used by decorators to create particular hues’, Baselitz here mounts a radical challenge to established cultural and aesthetic values.

     

    Left: Georg Baselitz, Der Wald auf dem Kopf (The Wood on ist Head), 1969, Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Image: © Sabrina Walz 2022 / Scala, Florence / bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin, Artwork: © Georg Baselitz 2022

    Right: Ferdinand von Rayski, Wermsdorf Forest, 1860, Albertinum Museum, Dresden.

     

    Germany and the Landscape Tradition

     

    Given the deep historical connections forged between the concept of the land and questions of German identity and consciousness, the fact that Baselitz chose to depict a landscape scene in his first fully inverted composition is highly significant. Establishing a clear dialogue with the rich history of German landscape painting, this first inverted canvas - Der Wald auf dem Kopf – reworked a well-known composition by the 19th century German artist Ferdinand von Rayski. Belonging to a long tradition of landscape painting that reached its most sublime expression within the contexts of German Romanticism, von Rayski’s wintry woodland scene exemplified the kind of painting venerated under the Third Reich, who exploited the close bonds between German culture and the land as the embodiment of a Nazi vision of Blut und Boden (blood and soil). Like his contemporary Anselm Kiefer’s monumental landscapes, Baselitz’s inversion of the motif represents a radical challenge to history and cultural consciousness, a powerful manifestation of his own feelings related to order and chaos.

    'I was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed people, a destroyed society. And I didn't want to re-establish an order: I had seen enough of so-called order. I was forced to question everything, to be “naïve”, to start again.' —Georg BaselitzAs well as presenting a direct challenge to entrenched ideological connections between the landscape and the Third Reich, in quite literally turning the world upside down in the present work, Baselitz creates an immediate and visceral sense of cognitive dissonance. While still legible, the inverted motif interferes with our attempts to read the composition, challenging a sense of our orientation in relation to both to the work and the world it depicts. Emerging as the defining feature of Baseltiz’s inventive pictorial language after 1969, in his inverted paintings, Baselitz took ‘everything which has been an object of painting – landscape, the portrait and the nude, for example – and paint it upside-down’, successfully liberating ‘representation from content’.ii

     

    Pulsing with saturated earth tones of ochre, green, and blue applied in energetic, loose brushstrokes, Ohne Titel (Landschaft) draws certain compositional comparisons to the high-key palette and exuberance that best characterises the approach to landscape taken developed by German Expressionists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Wassily Kandinsky, although Baselitz himself has always emphasised his distinction from the group on the grounds of representation. Clarifying his position in relation to the early 20th century avant-garde movement, Baselitz explained: ‘In fact this only applies to the way I handle the canvas, my manual use of the canvas […] Expressionists use a method that illustrates our environment, the world we live in. They use what exists; they extract from it an illustrative method of making a painting. Everything is linked. Painting a green cow doesn’t necessarily entail losing touch with one’s environment. I have always invented the objects and the various figurations that I wanted to show.’iii

     

    Wassily Kandinsky, Bavarian Landscape with Church, 1908, Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal, Germany. Image: Bridgeman Images
    Wassily Kandinsky, Bavarian Landscape with Church, 1908, Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal, Germany. Image: Bridgeman Images

     

    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, destabilising the techniques of figurative painting and forcing representation and abstraction together in unexpected ways. 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. Baselitz is currently the focus of solo exhibitions at the Museo Palazzo Grimani in Venice and White Cube in Hong Kong. 
     

    i Richard Calvocoressi, Georg Baselitz, London, 2021, p. 140. 
    ii Georg Baselitz, quoted in Georg Baselitz (exh. cat.), New York, 1995, p. 71. 
    iii Georg Baselitz, quoted in Georg Baselitz, (exh. cat.), New York, 1995, pp. 149 – 150.

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne
      Galerie Leger, Malmö
      Galerie Michael Haas, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Antwerp, Wide White Space Gallery, Georg Baselitz: Tekeningen en Schilderijen, 7 November - 3 December 1970, no. 8
      Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts, Hommage à Georg Baselitz, 23 January – 3 March 2018, pp. 23, 60 (illustrated, online; catalogued as oil and egg tempera on canvas)

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Ohne Titel (Landschaft)

signed and dated 'G Baselitz 70' lower right
synthetic resin on awning fabric
130 x 162 cm (51 1/8 x 63 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1970.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£800,000 - 1,200,000 ‡ ♠

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Kate Bryan
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022