The "Nightingale" alluded to in the work's title is Baselitz's snide moniker for Joseph Stalin, a nickname given to the dictator because of his singing voice (he was a chorister as a boy) and love of poetry. Baselitz depicted an allegory for Lenin as well, who he dubbed "Mrs. Lenin," dressed in a skirt, making reference to his love of disguise. In this series, Baselitz goes beyond a surface distortion by adding a deeper layer, implementing a psychological perversion through the use of two dictators, who in the first half of the twentieth century caused the deaths of millions. Both characters are innocuously camouflaged by the artist’s choice of thick brushstrokes in bright colors and by creating a sense of compositional confusion. A decade after this painting was made, Baselitz produced Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale, a suite of sixteen paintings pertaining to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and depicting Baselitz’s famed compositional structure; his upside-down subjects. For Baselitz, “painting is methodically organized by an aggressive, dissonant reversal of the ornamentation."
The present work confronts the viewer with a similar level of disorientation. In Night of the Nightingale IV (Oboznenko), Baselitz once again psychologically and structurally obscures his subjects through the use of childish expressions and light hues of red and yellow calling into question if they are in fact innocent children or merely disguised as such - much like Lenin and Stalin in Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale. As the artist explained, "There are no ideals today. I was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed people, a destroyed society. And I didn’t want to re-establish an order: I’d seen enough of so-called order" (Georg Baselitz, quoted in "Goth to Dance: Georg Baselitz in Conversation with Donald Kuspit" in Detlev Gretenkort, Ed., Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, London 2010, p. 242). Amidst this destroyed order, destroyed landscape, destroyed people and destroyed society, comes a simplicity and sense of innocence.
With staccato brushstrokes, drips of ink and whitewashed translucent color, the monumental Russenbilder series also evokes a sense of melancholy not felt in Baselitz’s earlier Fracture and Hero paintings. Through this body of work, Baselitz attempts to revive forgotten moments and anecdotes, an artistic and folkloric testament to a bygone era, confronting historic realities: "Standing within a long tradition of German art, and using time honoured media, Baselitz has striven constantly to confront the realities of history and art history to make the new and fresh in a manner that can only be described as heroic; heroic because his art has consciously gone against the grain of fashion, while always remaining modern” (Norman Rosenthal, "Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter," in Exh. Cat., Royal Academy of Arts, Baselitz, London 2007, p. 15).
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