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  • Overview

    Painted in 1982, during Georg Baselitz’s most commanding period of painterly production, Das letzte Selbstbildnis I (The last self-portrait I) is a painting of extraordinary impact drenched in fiery reds, yellows and blues. It belongs to a series of paintings which pays homage to Edvard Munch’s late self-portraits, with examples being held in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. The present masterwork presents its protagonist in Baselitz’s signature upside-down format, with his head twisted to side and a slash of light paint running down his naked body. Arranged within a prismatic network of tactile and vibrant brushstrokes, the lively red-yellow colours inhabiting the portrayed figure plunge the surrounding background into infinite darkness.

     

    Appearing before the viewer in a colossal scale of two and a half metres, Das letzte Selbstbildnis I (The last self-portrait I) evinces a raw, savage beauty, as well as an inimitable conceptual rigour that characterises the very best of Baselitz’s work. Following his selection to represent Germany at the 1980 Venice Biennale, the artist participated in a series of influential exhibitions across the globe which led him to international recognition, including A New Spirit in Painting in 1981 at the Royal Academy, London, Documenta 7 in 1982 and the landmark exhibition Zetgeist that same year at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin. Created at a turning point in the artist’s career, the present masterpiece contains all the seminal idiosyncracies that propelled Baselitz to international fame, as he attained worldwide critical acclaim and sometimes shocked the art world. Last publicly seen in 1996, Das letzte Selbstbildnis I (The last self-portrait I) comes from the Collection of Marcel Brient and shares the same intensity of one of Martin Kippenberger’s last self-portraits, Ohne Titel (aus der Serie Das Floß der Medusa), formerly part of the same visionary collection. 

  • Homage to Edvard Munch’s Late Self-Portraits

  • Baselitz’s need to forge his own type of painting cannot be understood outside the context of Germany’s political and cultural landscape. Raised in the austerity of communist East Germany, the artist moved to West Germany before the building of the Berlin Wall. Far from the ethos of East Germany’s Social Realism, abstract expressionist styles and conceptual trends were dominating the West. Reluctant to both, Baselitz instead identified himself as an ‘outsider’, alongside artists and writers from northern Europe who similarly eschewed artistic movements or schools, and had lived disturbed or isolated lives at the edge of society. With his friend Eugen Schönebeck, he authored his Pandemonium Manifestos in 1961 and 1962, formulating this feeling of isolation he felt while trying to affirm his voice in the art world. The search for renewal on the basis of ‘outsider’ visions led Baselitz to take the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch as a key influence and inspiration. Finding a mutual interest in psychological mutilation, Baselitz was far less interested in the depictive functions of representation than with its power to symbolise states of feelings.

     

    Edvard Munch Self-Portrait by the Window
    Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait by the Window, 1940-42, oil on canvas, Munch Museum, Oslo. Image: Scala, Florence.

    Baselitz’s great appreciation for Munch was further evidenced by the intensely rendered figures that dominated the artist’s output in 1982. By that time, Baselitz had introduced his characteristic symbol, the inverted image, adding a further layer to the portrayal of displacement in his paintings. With fiery and dramatic brushstrokes, Das letze Selbstbildnis I (The last self-portrait I) is a powerful example of the artist’s new approach that conveys a sense of isolation, anxiety and despair. Here, the upside-down figure, set in an unrecognisable environment, sharply stands out from the background and adopts an uncanny magical presence. With Baselitz’s frantic brushwork, his rough treatment of the flayed, solitary figure next to a window, and the identification of his surroundings as being plunged in the night time, the painting echoes the most compelling elements of Munch’s Self-Portrait-The Night Wanderer, 1923-24. The figure emerges from the darkness in a pose similar to that in Munch’s masterwork achieving a comparable intensity in the evocation of an exceptional mood. Further reminiscent of Munch’s triumphant use of red in Self-Portrait by the Window, circa 1940, Baselitz adds additional crusts to this depiction of total isolation by navigating the poles of abstraction and figuration. As remarked by Richard Calvocoressi, ‘The window is the perfect form, which can be read simultaneously as both abstract and representational’.i

     

    Self-Portrait or Man Walking Night Painting
    Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait or Man Walking Night Painting, 1923-24, oil on canvas, Munch Museum, Oslo. Image: Luisa Ricciarini/Bridgeman Images.

    With a volumetric and sculptural presence, the figure in the present work recalls Baselitz’s wood sculptures of the same period. Returning to sculpture for the first time since his period of intense involvement with it in the late 1970s, Baselitz mastered new painterly techniques which allowed him to achieve a new monumental quality in his work. Perhaps informed by this practice, and his enormous larger-than-life sculptures, the artist opted for colossal canvases which gave life to chaotic and stirring brushstrokes that transcend the laws of figuration. In the present work, the figure is delineated more than ever before. A dense, flaming impasto runs down the lengths of the canvas in tactile layers, while concentrated brushstrokes seem to sweep freely in some areas, and others follow the contours of the figure’s silhouette modeling the body like sculpture. There is a tenacious weightiness as the body appears hard and almost literally wooden. With an emphatic corporeality, Das letzte Selbstbildnis I (The last self-portrait I) is deliberately cruder than the artist’s earlier works and demonstrates the new heights that Baselitz’s art had reached in 1982.

     

    Untitled
    Georg Baselitz, Untitled, 1982-83, lime wood and oil paint, MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg. Stroeher Collection. © Baselitz 2020. Image: Courtesy Archiv Galerie Beyeler, Basel.

    The present canvas, in which the figure responds directly to Munch’s late self-portraits, confronts the viewer with a powerful depiction of alienation. Painted at the height of Baselitz’s career, the dynamism dominating the composition reflects Baselitz’s renewed mindset following the psycho-social trauma of the post-war period, and, as such, distinguishes the painting as one of the most important from the artist’s career.

     

    Georg Baselitz on Edvard Munch

     

     

    i Richard Calvocoressi, Georg Baselitz, London, 1982, n.p.

    • Provenance

      Waddington Galleries, London
      Berry Morrison, New York
      Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne
      Galerie Beyeler, Basel
      Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris
      Hauser & Wirth, Zurich
      Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago
      Pace Wildenstein, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001

    • Exhibited

      London, Waddington Galleries, Georg Baselitz, 27 October - 20 November 1982, p. 8 (illustrated, titled Letztes Selbstbildnis (Munch))
      The Saint Louis Art Museum, Expressions. New Art from Germany, June - August 1983
      Vancouver Art Gallery, Georg Baselitz, 2 November 1984 - 2 January 1985, p. 34 (illustrated, titled Letztes Selbstbildnis (Munch))
      Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Georg Baselitz, 17 October - 31 December 1992, no. 20, pp. 50, 77 (illustrated, p. 51)
      Paris, Galerie Daniel Templon, Georg Baselitz, Œuvres de 1976 à 1990, 12 October - 20 November 1993 (illustrated on the cover)
      Seoul, Gana Art Gallery, Georg Baselitz, 4 - 18 December 1993 (illustrated, n.p.)
      Zurich, Hauser & Wirth, Malerei aus Deutschland, 4 May - 13 July 1996

    • Literature

      Catherine Grenier, ed., Galerie Templon: 50 Years, Paris, 2016, pp. 476-477, 942 (illustrated, pp. 476-477)

    • Artist Biography

      Georg Baselitz

      Enthusiastically disruptive and perennially iconoclastic, Georg Baselitz stands out as an artistic outlier among Germany’s impressive roster of postwar artmakers. Born in the former German Democratic Republic and expelled from his East German art school for “sociopolitical immaturity,” Baselitz retreated to the West and quickly became known for creatively challenging widespread artistic conventions by painting in a violent and energetic form of representation in gleeful defiance of the prevailing abstract tendencies of the avant-garde following World War II. Baselitz, favoring figuration, painted caustic portraits and kinetic landscapes in the tradition of the German Expressionists before literally upending his practice in the late 1960s by painting upside-down, creating a disarming pseudo-abstract effect that emphasizes surface over substance.

      Baselitz’s work has been widely celebrated for its unapologetic and unconventional innovation as well as for its occasionally confrontational subject matter. Baselitz’s critical breakthrough came in 1963 with the debut of the unabashedly outrageous painting Die groβe Nacht im Eimer, currently in the collection of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, which immediately attracted the attention of the German media and judicial system. This work, and others, set the tone for a long and celebrated career of convention-shattering paintings, prints, and sculptures that are at once stylistically innovative and deferential to the German artistic tradition. Today, Baselitz’s work can be found in major institutions worldwide such as the Museum Ludwig and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

       
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From the Collection of Marcel Brient, Paris

10

Das letzte Selbstbildnis I

signed with the artist's initials and dated ‘22.IX.82 G.B.’ lower centre; further signed, titled and dated 'G. Baselitz das letzte Selbstbildnis I 22.IX.82' on the reverse
oil on canvas
250 x 200 cm (98 3/8 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1982.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£4,700,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for £4,983,500

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020