Georg Baselitz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
    Private Collection
    Christie's, New York, 19 November 1997, lot 364
    Private Collection
    Christie's, New York, 14 May 2014, lot 235
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘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 the past…’ (Kevin Power, quoted in Georg Baselitz: Paintings 1966 - 1969,, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, 1991, pp. 5-6).

    A powerful manifestation of Georg Baselitz’s celebrated inversion technique, Dreimal is an impactful example of the artist’s extensive exploration into the representation of collective memory, utilising a loaded visual syntax. Infamous for his bold and provocative canvases, the artist combines figuration and abstraction in the present work, which culminates in an arresting flurry of colour and layered form to depict a triumvirate of three birds. Drawing upon the motif of the eagle, as well as associations of idyllic pastoral life and freedom, Baselitz shatters our expectations through his frenetic brushstrokes, turning the world on its head to expose new realms of possibility.

    Painted in the same year as the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dreimal is part of an intensive period of work which prompted Baselitz to reflect on the aftermath of twentieth century history. Revisiting and excavating the past, Baselitz strived to push his own painterly vocabulary and compositional experiments to the limits. Much like Anselm Kiefer’s, The Language of Birds, Baselitz confronts the weight of the past, creating a work that has a destructive, anarchic aspect but also encompasses a cathartic quality. With the circular rotational placing of the three birds, there is a suggestion of repetition in a cyclical motion, conveying the fluidity of history and memory. The present work conveys Baselitz’s ingenious negotiation of past and present; in Dreimal the artist’s progressive compositions alongside his usage of culturally weighted symbols successfully showcases his adroit ability to continually develop his painterly dialogue with the past.

    Inverting the cultural symbolism of a rural ideal, Baselitz similarly implicates the evocative eagle motif in Dreimal. Here the eagle, emblematic of the Third Reich as well as German nationalism, is reduced, no longer the glorious symbol of the country. Instead Baselitz’s birds are diminutive and juvenile in appearance, radically altering the revered patriotic Adler. The eagle’s potency as an image of strength and power, once so proudly Germanic, is suspended through its inversion. Set against a sooty black background, the birds appears ghostly against the acidic brushstrokes, their eyes deadened and blank. In the same way that Baselitz’s 1972 Fingermalerei - Adler(Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich) depicts a bird of prey caught in what can only be described as a death spiral, Baselitz’s birds are flipped in the present work. Falling in flight, the eagle’s wings are outstretched, its talons seizing thin air, unable to clutch onto anything. In Dreimal and Fingermalerei Adler, Baselitz’s birds appear symbolic of his prolonged questioning of the syntax of German national identity.

    Stemming from earlier renderings and watercolours made as a fifteen-year-old boy, Baselitz’s preoccupation with animal motifs has continually dominated the artist’s prolific oeuvre.
    After moving to the Swabian countryside in 1966, Baselitz entered a new chapter in his practice and began working on his Fracture paintings, employing a visual library of traditional German motifs, such as huntsmen, bears, birds, dogs and cows. Through the compositional fracturing of his idyllic protagonists, Baselitz removed their symbolic potency. Further experimenting with altering his compositions, Baselitz’s technique of rotating his canvasses 180 degrees in the late sixties increasingly liberated his imagery from symbolic power, detracting the objectifying gaze of the viewer in order to free his animal protagonists from subjective associations. In the present work, Baselitz birds are rendered in a more expressive, frenzied manner. No longer heraldic symbols of an allegorical ideal or motifs of pastoral nostalgia, Baselitz removes the horizon so that the bodies of the birds splay across the centre of the canvas. The birds levitate, appearing static on the canvas. Rather than depicting the birds in flight, Baselitz clips their wings, surgically distorting the avian subject matter to deconstruct the rural motif of the bird that had once been so proudly Germanic. Through his flurry of brushstrokes and the tail of the bird spilling off the canvas edge, Dreimal conveys an intense dynamism, similarly invoked though his painterly layering of rich colour.

    Seven years old when the Second World War ended, Baselitz grew up in the post-war austerity of Communist East Germany. Examining the events that had occurred through his artistic practice, Baselitz began to explore a style that would counteract the outmoded constructions of Germanic identity. The technique of inverting the painting’s motif thus became essential to Baselitz’s vision. Emptying the image of content, the spectator is able to focus their attention on abstract pictorial values of colour and form, and in this case, vigorous brushwork – allowing the wild, visceral colours to speak for themselves. In the present work, the space around the birds is divided, as if sliced, giving the image an artificially constructed appearance. The deep, crimson border, reminiscent of both bloodshed and Nazi insignia is then pushed to the forefront of the canvas in a bitingly aggressive manner.



signed, titled and dated 'G. Baselitz "dreimal" 17.V.89 - 24.V.89' on the reverse
oil on canvas
130.1 x 97.1 cm (51 1/4 x 38 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1989.

£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £261,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017