Born in 1938 and only seven years old at the end of the Second World War, Baselitz poignantly described the past that he inherited by saying: “I was born into a destroyed order.” (Georg Baselitz in conversation with Donald Kuspit, ‘Goth to Dance,’ Artforum, 33, Summer 1995, p. 76) Defeated and devastated by the Second World War, the German nation was immersed in further anguish when it was carved up and divided into East and West. The West ‘Federal Republic’ and East ‘Democratic Republic’ forged a fractured arena in which the diametrically opposed ideologies of Western Capitalism and Soviet Communism met head-to-head. The dissection of Berlin itself embodied the schizophrenia of a split country, and the Berlin Wall, erected in August 1961, became perhaps the most powerful totem of the epoch. It was in the splintered ruins of a former world power that Baselitz began forging his own artistic identity and aesthetic, one that is on full display in the fragmented composition of Der Jäger (The Hunter). Within the canvas plane, Baselitz fractures the forms of his huntsman and animal companions across numerous registers juxtaposing their varied anatomies form veritable Rubik’s cube of arms, heads, legs, and hoofs; split across horizontal rows, the composition resists total legibility while suggesting numerous potential images that could be shown, should the fractures be resolved.
A superb and early example of Baselitz’s iconic Frakturbilder, the composition is severed by three horizontal lines running across the canvas, destabilizing any single perspectival reading of the painting and calling into question the relative coherence of the variegated viewpoints. Sardonically invoking the illusionism of three point perspective – a cornerstone of classical painting – Baselitz’s contemptuous disruption of the image plane overrides the perspectival challenges laid out in the mainstream Modernist movements. Yet for all its inherent fracture, there is a profound sense of pictorial balance in Der Jäger (The Hunter); masterfully layering and blending the forest tones with an unusual delicacy and care, Baselitz's brushwork imbues his weighty forms with compelling volume and depth. While Baselitz’s ingenious juxtaposition of planes and forms destabilizes the viewer’s initial reading of the painting, the interlocking forms soon resolve to achieve an overall architectural elegance. Describing Baselitz’s unique ability to marry discord and equilibrium within a single painting, Diane Waldman notes: “among his German precursors – Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer, Caspar David Friedrich, and Emil Nolde – were models who had dealt with both beauty and ugliness. In his own paintings, Baselitz has attempted to reconcile past and present, beauty and ugliness through the creation of prototypes – ‘motifs,’ as he called them – outside of time.” (Diane Waldman in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Georg Baselitz, 1995, p. 34)
In its fractured rendering of a single, mythic figure, Der Jäger (The Hunter) is a seminal precursor to his Hero paintings, the series that cemented his reputation as one of the most provocative and compelling voices of German post-war painting. Standing atop the sprawled form of a doglike creature, the central figure – here reduced to an abject fragmented form – stands proudly; his fierce gaze and hardened countenance speak to a long lost and romanticized stoicism of the mythical German hero, now annihilated by the ravages of World War II. In contrast with the textural brushwork with which Baselitz renders the background and surfaces of the present work, the outlines of the primary figure and his accompanying prey are rendered in bold, black lines; remarking upon the stark polarity, which became an archetypal feature of the series, Waldman describes: “In 1966 Baselitz’s figures in the Heroes became bolder...The outlines...are reminiscent of the silhouetted forms used by Beckmann and Georges Rouault.” (Diane Waldman cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Georg Baselitz, 1995, p. 53) In the hyper-articulated and foreshortened forms of the central figure and his animal cohort, the influence of late sixteenth-century Mannerism is clear—in particular, the distorted anatomies, attenuated limbs, and abbreviated perspectives of such masters as Bronzino, Fiorentino, Pontormo, and Parmigianino, all of which have oft been cited as the as the most significant impetus behind the Hero series. By challenging the traditions of classical art history through the lens of a culture reeling from the psychological and physical devastation of modern warfare, the present work bears witness to Baselitz’s development of a new painterly idiom , one that reassesses modern German values through the lens of canonical painting. His heightened awareness of the recent past and astute perception of the immediate repercussions of his era led Norman Rosenthal to describe how he “has striven constantly to confront the realities of history and art history, to make them new and fresh in a manner that can only be described as heroic.” (Norman Rosenthal, ‘Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, Georg Baselitz, 2007, p. 15) Upon the embattled surface of the canvas, the fragmented hero of Der Jäger (The Hunter) lifts his head to gaze proudly at the viewer, serving as enduring testament to the provocative and poetic lyricism of Baselitz’s inimitable painterly oeuvre.
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