In the following lot, Stilleben (Still Life) from 1976, the artist’s emphasis is on the formal syntax of the composition: the forms have an empathic contour and even perspective, and as a result the work has a much more legible surface. The inversion of the composition toying with our cognitive abilities and discernment, the usually rather mundane pitcher and bottle here appear to be elevated to beautiful ornaments in an array of colours that pre-empts Baselitz’s later pictorial language.
This next step, Baselitz took it in the early 1980s and is epitomized in Der Abgarköpf (The Abgar Head), executed in 1984.The legend of the of the Abgar Head has many different variants and is, to this day, still vividly discussed amongst theologians, but one of its most widely popular retellings since the Middle-Ages is the following: Agbar V, a Syrian king, suffered from an incurable disease. Having heard of the miracles performed by Jesus Christ, he sent an emissary with a letter begging Jesus to come and heal him. The emissary, a court archivist and painter named Hannan, or Ananias, attempted to paint Jesus’ portrait but failed to represent the Son of God. Jesus then gave Ananias a cloth with which he washed his face in which his features were miraculously imprinted. This cloth bearing the portrait of the Christ, according to the legend, then healed the pagan King Abgar, after which he became the first king in History converted to Christianity. In the current lot, a close-up of a face – the aforementioned iconized portrait of the Christ – fills the picture plane. Part of a series, this example is probably the most visually striking variant of Der Abgarköpfe: juxtaposed large areas of bright cerulean blue, vibrant orange and pink are used as devices to challenge the naive, epinalesque associations with traditional Christian iconography.
Although formally comparable to the first still life and executed during a similar period in Baselitz’s practice, the third and final lot from this exceptional group of works, is however very different in ambition. Where Stilleben (Still Life) from 1976 introduced a new chapter in Baselitz’s repertoire, Stilleben (Still Life) from 1977 seems to draw a conclusion with the artist’s earlier works in which gesture was a fundamental feature. Executed on an irregularly torn large sheet of paper, the marks left by the artist’s tools are intrinsically important to the final, almost performative effect. The violent treatment given to uneasily recognisable objects, and the strokes of simple dichromatic paint occurring transversely with no regard for their contours, are the factors that link formal relationships between them.
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