Waddington Galleries, London
Sotheby's, New York, 2 May 1988, Lot 49 (consigned by the above)
Marianne and Pierre Nahon, Paris (acquired from the above sale)
Sotheby's, Paris, Le Jardin Secret de Marianne et Pierre Nahon, 18 July 2004, Lot 224 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Referencias: Un Encuentro Artistico en el Tiempo (Georg Baselitz, Eduardo Chillida, Antonio Saura, Richard Serra, Antoni Tàpies, Cy Twombly), May - September 1986, p. 28, illustrated in colour
Vence, Galerie Beaubourg, Pour la Galerie, 1993
Vence, Galerie Beaubourg, Quelques Impressions d'Afrique, July - October 1996, p. 43, illustrated in colour
The hallmark of Baselitz's production since 1969, figurative subjects appear upside down in an attempt to detach literal interpretation from the painted image: “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… What I wanted was quite simply to find a way of making pictures, perhaps with a new sense of detachment” (Georg Baselitz in conversation with Peter Moritz Pickshaus, in: Franz Dahlem, Georg Baselitz, Cologne 1990, p. 29). In Der Bote this sense of detachment is accentuated by the artist’s fervent use of contrasting colours, which deviate from the traditional figurative subject, and lend the work a renewed sense of conceptual rigour and compositional complexity. Executed in 1984, the extraordinary style and complex treatment of portraiture perfectly aligns Der Bote with other standout works from this period such as Nachtessen in Dresden (Supper in Dresden), held in the collection of the Kunsthaus Zürich, and Der Brückechor (The Brücke Chorus).
Looking back at the history of German painting, Baselitz’s paintings from this period are thematically anchored to the painter’s dialogue with the early twentieth-century German Expressionist group Die Brücke (The Bridge). Founded by Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff in Dresden in 1905, this creative faction, united by their mutual admiration of Edvard Munch, asserted a new avant-garde which linked a pioneering form of emotive expression to the art of the past. Aside from a myriad of influences ranging from Primitive art to contemporary avant-garde movements such as the Fauves, Die Brücke engaged with the great Christian themes of the Northern European tradition (as epitomised by the work of Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder). Indeed, following his homage to and depiction of Die Brücke artists in Nachtessen in Dresden and Der Brückechor, works that are imbued with a solemnity and “an almost religious intensity”, Baselitz turned directly to religious subject matter (Andreas Franzke, Georg Baselitz, Munich 1989, p. 194). Entitled Der Bote meaning 'the Herald', we are instantly reminded of Gabriel, the messenger sent from God who foretold the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. Indeed the present painting was created alongside other works alluding to biblical tales and Christian imagery, including Lazarus, Die Beweinung (The Lamentation), and Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection), all of which recount episodes from Christ’s Passion. Inverted in Baselitz’s idiosyncratic manner, articulated in bulky brushstrokes, high-key colour, and depicting frontal primitivistic figures, these paintings announced a new dramatic intensity in response to Germany's artistic heritage, and in so doing returned his artistic concerns to a historical and ambitious painterly arena.
Commenting on Baselitz’s output of the early 1980s, art historian Andreas Franzke remarked that “from 1981 on, Baselitz markedly intensifies the expressivity of his work… [he] simplifies his representations, and the figures become bulkier, more succinct in their proportions and general aspect, one might even say more primitive” (Ibid., p. 156). The lone figure in the present work is perhaps referencing Baselitz’s own sense of isolation as a former East German who moved to the West, caught between the two opposing factions. The larger-than-life anti-hero thus recalls to some extent the New Types and Heroes which dominated his work in the post-war landscape of the mid-1960s. Heralding a newly defined condition for painting towards the end of the 1970s, Baselitz created with his extraordinary range of exuberant brushstrokes an intense, thick mix of past, present, and future. As aptly summarised by Katy Siegel: “Baselitz’s present is always a complicated accretion of moments from the past – of art, of social history, of his personal life – and an aggressive drive towards the future, towards new possibilities for himself and painting” (Katy Siegel, ‘Oranges & Apples’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Georg Baselitz. Drinkers & Orange Eaters, 2015, p. 9).
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