Lot 38
  • 38

GEORG BASELITZ | Trinker am Tisch (Drinker at Table)

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
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  • Georg Baselitz
  • Trinker am Tisch (Drinker at Table)
  • signed with the artist's initials and dated 8.I.83; signed, titled, and dated 8.1.83 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 98 1/2 by 78 3/4 in. 250.2 by 200 cm.
  • Executed in 1983.


Xavier Fourcade, Inc., New York
Stefan T. Edlis and Gael Neeson, Chicago (acquired from the above in 1983)
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in May 1996


New York, Xavier Fourcade, Inc., Georg Baselitz: 6 paintings 1965-1969, March - May 1983, no. 10, illustrated in color
Akron, Akron Art Museum, Georg Baselitz, June - August 1983
London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; and Basel, Kunsthalle, Georg Baselitz: Paintings 1960-83, September 1983 - April 1984, p. 63, illustrated in color (London); p. 74, no. 12, illustrated in color (Amsterdam)
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Le Grande Parade, hoogtepunten uit de schilderkunst na 1940/highlights in painting after 1940, December 1984 - April 1985, no. 12, illustrated in color


Michael Auping, Georg Baselitz - Paintings 1962-2001, Milan, Gabrius - Alberico Cetti Serbelloni, 2002, p. 115, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1983, Georg Baselitz’s Trinker am Tisch (Drinker at Table), is a towering, emotionally-charged portrayal of the human condition. Arranged within a prismatic network of daubed and stippled brushwork, a heroic figure looms before the viewer, which Baselitz renders in an animated, nearly electric display of raw, visceral strokes. As he has done since 1969, Baselitz presents the human figure upside-down, which allows him to work within a figurative tradition whilst simultaneously interrogating and destabilizing its techniques. He thereby forces the viewer to see his work in utterly new and innovative ways. Executed in early January of 1983, Trinker am Tisch (Drinker at Table) belongs to an important series of paintings that are collectively known as the Glasstrinker (Glass Drinkers). Along with the concurrent series of Orangenesser (Orange Eaters), Baselitz created the Glass Drinkers in the early years of the 1980s. At this time he was grappling with the legacy of German Expressionism, particularly the artists of Die Brücke such as Emil Nolde and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. He also felt energized by the new generation of Neo-Expressionist artists that helped revive figurative painting in Europe and abroad. Trinker am Tisch [Drinker at Table] is an important painting from this crucial moment in the artist’s history, embodying all the pathos, humor and gravitas of his best work. Looming before the viewer in its colossal, eight-foot height, Baselitz creates a work of heroic proportions in Trinker am Tisch (Drinker at Table), resulting in a powerful, iconic portrait. The enormity of the canvas works in tandem with the figure’s upside-down portrayal to create a sense of disorientation, forcing the viewer to mentally invert the image to make sense of its orientation. Seated at a white table, the figure’s lower body is relaxed in a cross-legged repose, but his head and upper torso are turned in profile, caught in a moment of primal angst. He clutches at a blue bottle that stands nearby a small orange, and his face displays the wide-set eyes and opened mouth of a silent scream. The sense of unease created by the painting’s bold imagery is tempered, though, by the artist’s thoughtful, painterly approach, where glowing passages of luminous color are created by short, dappled brushstrokes of the brush. Animated fields of buttery yellow are interspersed with grey and black to create a seductive, light-filled passage, while in the lower register, the artist’s brush becomes powerfully alive in a symphony of orange, peach and flesh-hued tones. In every instance, the painting oscillates back and forth between the inverted representation of the seated figure and the abstraction of its painterly field. This dynamic, tactile surface epitomizes Baselitz’s own description for his style at the time, which he described as “boxing with both hands.” (Georg Baselitz, quoted in P. Kort, ‘80s Then: Georg Baselitz Talks to Pamela Kort,” Artforum, April 2003, p. 207)

As an East German who had moved to the West just before the construction of the Berlin Wall, Baselitz’s heroic figures demonstrate the fractured sense of identity of postwar Germany. Like his contemporaries Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, Baselitz sought a new pictorial language in order to carry on with the act of painting in the decades following World War II, as the specter of war still lingered over many aspects of daily life. Like Baselitz’s New Types and Heroes of the mid-1960s, the Glasstrinker (Glass Drinkers) and Orangenesser (Orange Eaters) can be understood in similar terms, where a conflicted figure struggles with the existential terms of his own reality in a fundamentally altered, modern world. Then as now, these paintings are seen as powerful emblems that reflect the artist’s attempt to create meaningful work in a still-divided Germany that stood at the brink of the Cold War’s end. Indeed, Donald Kuspit noted the particular power of the series when Trinker am Tisch (Drinker at Table) was exhibited in New York at Xavier Fourcade in 1983: “These paintings are not only upside-down, they are inside-out: the figures have a flayed, raw look that goes with spiritual nakedness…The ‘reversible world,’ the sense of ‘topsy-turvydom’ — of everything stood on its head — is also a comic acknowledgment of the world’s craziness, a picaresque way of calling it into questionableness. Very simply, it is a way of…negating what seems the proper order of things…used to renew the failing criticality that is the soul of modernism.” (Donald Kuspit, “Georg Baselitz at Fourcade,” Art in America, February 1982, pp. 139-40)

Although he never sought to deliberately emulate the work of past masters, the Glasstrinker (Glass Drinkers) and Orangenesser (Orange Eaters) were nevertheless influenced by the German Expressionists, especially artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde of Die Brücke. “These works represent my reaction to expressionist art during the ‘80s," Baselitz explained. “I had always loved expressionist painting, like every European. In fact I admired it all the more because these were precisely the paintings desired by my father’s generation. Their denouncement made them especially appealing to me as a human being...” (Georg Baselitz, quoted in P. Kort, op. cit., p. 207)

An important painting from a crucial moment in history, Trinker am Tisch (Drinker at Table) illustrates the highly expressive and brilliantly colored portrayals of the human figure that crystalized during this fruitful period. A few months after it was painted, Baselitz selected the present work to be one of only four painting that he exhibited at the Xavier Fourcade Gallery in March of 1983. There, Trinker am Tisch (Drinker at Table) was exhibited alongside Nachtessen in Dresden [Supper at Dresden], also painted in 1983, and now in the collection of the Kunsthaus Zürich. The painting then traveled to London, Amsterdam and Basel as part of the artist’s European retrospective later that year.