Hermann Nitsch - Evening & Day Editions London Wednesday, January 17, 2024 | Phillips

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  • In the mid-1950s, the artist Hermann Nitsch conceived his Orgies Mysteries Theatre (O.M. Theatre), which would be a total work of art incorporating his entire artistic practise in an all-consuming, boundary-defying, multi-media bacchanalia. In doing so, Nitsch liberated his art from the confines of twentieth-century norms that emphasised representation and form. He transitioned from traditional modes of portrayal to elemental forms, reducing language to screams, music to noise, and painting to spilled paint. Nitsch’s focus shifted to action, culminating in his orgiastic Aktionen, which, alike the avant-garde poet Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, emphasised a profound and ecstatic sensual experience that transcends linguistic associations. Nitsch’s artistic practise has since been heralded for its theatrical, dramatic expansion of art, which strived for a visceral connection with reality.


    Left: Anonymous, The Last Supper, 15th century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of James Clark McGuire, 1930, 31.54.126
    Right: Ugolino da Siena, The Last Supper, c. 1325-30, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975, 1975.1.7

    Das Letze Abendmahl, Nitsch's controversial reimagining of Christ's final meal before his crucifixion – is a product of his ritualistic artistic practice. This work is part of a broader exploration of religious imagery in Nitsch's oeuvre, underscoring his fascination with the transformative power of ritual and the potential for transcendent experiences. Drawing inspiration from religious rituals, which often involve intense sensory experiences and evoke strong emotions, Nitsch sought to forge a profound connection between the audience and his artworks. The Last Supper emerges as a particularly poignant theme, given its significance in Catholicism and its innumerable representations within the history of Western art. Nitsch hints to the most famous depiction of the scene, Leonardo da Vinci’s tempera mural in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, through the central figure of his composition, which closely resembles da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (c. 1490). Using materials such as blood, Nitsch reworked this sacred motif in his characteristically gruesome manner, which aimed to shock and to challenge established norms in both religious and artistic contexts. Nitsch, who was raised in a Catholic environment in Austria, sought to explore the mystical and spiritual dimensions of human experience, blurring the boundaries between the sacred and the profane.


    Nitsch’s drawing and prints are integral components of his artistic oeuvre. Initially serving as practical tools for studies of religious themes in the 1950s, drawing and print-making evolved into a standalone processes for Nitsch, distinct from painting. Nitsch’s training at the Academy of Graphic Art in Vienna laid the foundation for his extensive graphic work, for which he coined the term Unikatgrafik, denoting the uniqueness of each manually designed work, including when part of an edition. Nitsch repeatedly pushed the possibilities of printmaking in order to realise his ideas. Das Letze Abendmahl, for instance, presents a frieze-like row of intensely repeated, overlapping anatomical figures printed on an original blood-stained relic from one of Nitsch’s visceral Aktionen performance pieces. For this reason, Das Letze Abendmahl embodies Nitsch’s inclination towards the monumental and the shocking, which resulted in editioned artworks that defy comparison.


Das Letzte Abendmahl (The Last Supper)

Screenprint in colours, on original action cloth relic with blood, mounted on a wooden stretcher.
155 x 370 cm (61 x 145 5/8 in.)
Signed, dated, annotated 'A' and numbered 36/80, from the Edition A printed on unique fabric (there were also 25 copies with hand-colouring, 32 on regular canvas, 18 on white primed canvas and one artist’s proof), published by Francesco Conz, Verona (with his inkstamp on the reverse), with the accompanying Certificate of Authenticity issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

£15,000 - 20,000 ‡♠

Sold for £13,970

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+44 20 7318 4024

Rebecca Tooby-Desmond
Specialist, Head of Sale, Editions

Robert Kennan
Head of Editions, Europe

Anne Schneider-Wilson
Senior International Specialist, Editions

Louisa Earl
Associate Specialist, Editions

Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 17 - 18 January 2024