Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)
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Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)

Die Dornenkrönung (The Crowning with Thorns)

Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)
Die Dornenkrönung (The Crowning with Thorns)
signed with the artist's initials and dated '4.XI.83 GB' (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'Die Dornenkrönung G. Baselitz 4 XI 83' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
118 1/8 x 98 3/8in. (300 x 250cm.)
Painted in 1983
Mary Boone Gallery, New York.
Saatchi Collection, London.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
R. Fuchs, H. Kramer and P. Schjeldahl, Art of our Time, The Saatchi Collection, London 1984, no. 18 (illustrated in colour).
A. Franzke, Georg Baselitz, Munich 1989, no. 172 (illustrated in colour, p. 204).
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Georg Baselitz, October-December 1992, no. 21 (illustrated in colour, p. 55).
Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Georg Baselitz, October 1996-January 1997, no. 31 (illustrated in colour, p. 110).
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium, which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis. Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. Please note Payments and Collections will be unavailable on Monday 12th July 2010 due to a major update to the Client Accounting IT system. For further details please call +44 (0) 20 7839 9060 or e-mail

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Lot Essay

Die Dornengkrnung (The Crowning with Thorns) is one of an important series of paintings made throughout 1983 and early 1984 alongside a number of works invoking the art of the German Expressionists, in which Baselitz turned to religious iconography, reinventing and reworking it in a startling and radically new way.

Perhaps drawing again on the religious paintings of Emil Nolde, whose 1909 painting of the Last Supper, Baselitz had invoked in his two giant paintings of 1983 depicting artists from die Brücke (Nachtessen in Dresden and Die Brckechor), in this series of works made soon afterwards, he concentrated on themes from Christ's Passion. Extending the theatrical quality, marionette-like figures and heightened colour of his two vast Last Supper-like Brücke paintings into a completely new direction, Baselitz created in this work and others in the series such as Die Verspottung (Ludwig Museum, Budapest), Die Kreuztragung (Grothe Collection on loan to the Kunstmuseum Bonn) and Lazarus (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), an extraordinary and vibrant reworking of this traditional subject matter.

In a move that echoed his recent experiments carving large totemic figures in wood, in his new religiously-themed paintings Baselitz employed colour and brushstroke in a similarly chiseled and nongestural manner, seeming to carve his forms in radiant colour out of the abstract spaces and forms of the picture. Marked by the statuesque presences of lone independent figures set against unified areas of colour, the radiant but also artificial-looking colour of these paintings is deliberately at odds with the traditional solemnity of their subject-matter. Like the inverted motifs of Baselitz's painting, aimed at 'separating a subject from its associations', here form, style and colour have been used in this series of paintings to shatter and counter any conventional assumptions about the painting's apparent subject and the traditional iconography of such motifs.

In inverting the subject-matter and through its synthetic colour and dynamic sense of hand-crafted surface, in this series of paintings of the Passion, Baselitz subverts the religious iconography and subsumes it to the point of an incidental motif of the picture. Similarly, while invoking the work of the German Expressionists directly as if in some kind of homage, Baselitz also clearly wished to use these works as a way of asserting his fundamental distance from them. These paintings were made at a time in the early 1980s when Baselitz was being championed as the leading exponent of a 'Neo Expressionist' tendency in German art.

Moving beyond the conventions of religious painting and an artist such as Nolde's re-invoking of such subject-matter, in a painting such as Die Dornengkrnung Baselitz has brilliantly integrated the Christian subject-matter into his own unique painterly fusion of abstraction and figuration to create a fresh, powerful and enriched sense of pure painting and of painterly possibility. Radiant, highly textural and even playful in the manner in which this traditionally sober and grim subject-matter is integrated into the structure of his picture-making, here Baselitz renders the scene of Christ's crowning with thorns with such irreverence and originality that it seems almost as if the viewer were witnessing the event for the very first time. 'When I make my paintings' Baselitz has said of such works, 'I begin to do things as if I were the first, the only one, as if none of these examples (of what other artists had done before) existed.' (G. Baselitz, cited in H. Geldzahler, 'Georg Baselitz' Interview, April 1983, p. 83)

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