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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Georg Baselitz
B. 1938
GRÜNER MIT BIRKE
signed and dated 67; signed, titled and dated 67 on the reverse
oil on canvas
162.5 by 130cm.; 64 by 51in.
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Provenance

Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich

Walter Bareiss, Salach

Galerie Beyeler, Basel

Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

Hans Grothe Collection (acquired from the above in 1995)

Christie's, New York, Post-War Evening Sale, 13 November 2001, Lot 19

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Duisburg, Museum Küppersmühle, Sammlung Grothe, 1999, p. 111, no. 4, illustrated in colour

Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Gesammelte Räume-Gesammelte Träume: Kunst aus Deutschland von 1960 bis 2000: Bilder und Räume aus der Sammlung Grothe, 1999-2000, p. 107, no. 13, illustrated in colour 

Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna, Georg Baselitz, 2007, p. 20, illustrated in colour (incorrectly titled) 

Catalogue Note

Summoning a caustically muted vision of a symbolically charged landscape, Georg Baselitz’s expressionistic, Grüner mit Birke (Green Man with Birch) 1967, provides a unique vision of the artist’s key concerns at this point. Conceived after his important Heroes series and when he was creating his Fracture paintings, the piece substantiates a vital development in the artist’s oeuvre. Indeed, Grüner mit Birke bears a unique constitution peculiar to this period – between still-life, landscape and figuration – that marks Baselitz’s identity as a lone provocateur distinctly separate from dominant contemporaneous trends: “I started to cut myself off from the others, completely shutting myself away, didn’t join in art circles and tried to develop pictures that would, yes, provoke” (Georg Baselitz, ‘Statement at the Press Conference for ‘Baselitz Remix’ at the Albertina, Vienna, 17 January 2007’, in: Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, Baselitz, 2007, p. 11). Having left behind the aesthetic dogma of Socialist Realism with his flight from East Germany in 1958, Baselitz remained unsatisfied by the pretensions of freedom purported by fashionable movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Tachisme and Nouveau Réalisme. In a domestic cultural landscape still scarred by the war, the present work sees Baselitz inaugurating an interest in pastoral lands and folkloric symbolism in a quest to re-access German values.

The forest – that most Germanic of environments – provided a crucial backdrop for Baselitz’s work in the 1960s. To frame his paintings in this environment gave them a folkloric traditional atmosphere and identified Baselitz with great German painters of the past, such as Casper David Friedrich, who regularly painted vast woodland landscapes. In the present work, we can not only take notice of the large birch tree that climbs the left hand side of the painting, but also of the hunting dog, whose muzzled visage pokes into the right hand side. The title even heralds the central protagonist as a Grüner ­– a folkloric ‘Green Man’. It might further be assumed that the forest held some personal significance for Baselitz, who not only moved to the small countryside village of Osthofen the year before the present work’s creation, but had also applied to a local forestry school as a young man when still in East Germany; this propensity for forestry was made especially obvious in his later chainsaw sculptures.

Grüner mit Birke is an archetypal Baselitz painting. Its freer looser style and corporeal dislocation exemplify the emphases of the concurrent Frakturbilder, while the mood is imbued the uneasy disjuncture that is in keeping with the best of this artist’s oeuvre. Moreover, through its evocation of a forest scene, it speaks of a traditional folkloric German art tradition with which this artist has always been at great pains to identify himself, as posited by the eminent German author, Elias Cannetti: “not in any modern nation in the world has that spirit of identification with the forest [Waldgefühl] remained so vital” (Elias Cannetti quoted in: ibid., p. 121).

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London