Georg Baselitz (B. 1938)
Georg Baselitz (B. 1938)

Geteilter Held

Georg Baselitz (B. 1938)
Geteilter Held
signed and dated 'G Baselitz 66' (lower left); signed with initials and dated again 'G.B. 66' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
63¾ x 51¼ in. (161.9 x 130.1 cm.)
Painted in 1966.
Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Michael Werner Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1997
Georg Baselitz, exh. cat., Kunstverein Braunschweig, 1981, p. 72 (illustrated).
CAPC Musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, Peinture: Emblèmes et références: Georg Baselitz, Daniel Buren, Jannis Kounellis, Sigmar Polke, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, December 1993-February 1994, p. 43 (illustrated in color).
New York and Cologne, Michael Werner Gallery, Georg Baselitz: Fracture Paintings, March-October 1997, no. 3 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

"I actually order everything I do according to a principle of disharmony, of imbalance, of destruction". Georg Baselitz, 1995

Geteilter Held, meaning "divided hero," is an exceptional example of the merging of ideas in Baselitz' artistic practice--a preoccupation with historical mythmaking and a drive toward image discontinuity. By 1966, the year of the present work, Basilitz had conflated two distinct series of paintings created during the early 1960s, the first a series of monumental "Hero" images, the second his Frakturbilde (Fracture Pictures). The present work is a powerful example of the merging of these two elements: here, mythic portraiture is segmented into horizontal bands to create the "disharmony and imbalance" noted above. Viscerally brushed with blended and contrasting tonalities, the present work is an iconic representation of the fusing of these two distinct concerns. Effecting the anguish of Germany's post-war legacy, Geteilter Held arrests attention through its willful subversion of traditional representation. With bold strokes, awkward gestures and ruptured figuration, Baselitz overturns historical archetypes, in particular the "hero" memorialized in nineteenth and twentieth century German public monuments, social realist paintings of the period and epic literature, undermining their legibility and destabilizing their traditional symbolic significance. The almost primitive figuration-- swollen head, hefty torso, diminutive limbs--swathed in hues striking for their seeming alla prima technique in high-key greens, yellows, and reds--is toned, lightened and variously saturated to unify and flatten background and foreground into a single surface, creating an allover panoply of hue, luminosity and intensity. This instability of chroma--intense vermillion bands on the neck, upper lip and torso amid less saturated complementary hues--is supported by the allover patch-worked camouflage coloration, mottled and shaped by irregular contours of black linear demarcations. These outlines portray a disjunction: the thickened neck of the figure, proportionately off-kilter to the rest of the body, falters precariously in relation to the torso. Most compelling, however, is the division itself, the inexorable horizontal black-brown boundary cutting the canvas in two. This dividing line creates a forceful discontinuity between head and torso, as disconcerting as it is aberrant. Crosses--perhaps a symbol of suffering and martyrdom--are suspended over or positioned under this border. As a visual representation of post-war dislocation, the fractured Geteilter Held cannot be equaled: it is an artistic statement that finds its verbal correlation in Baselitz' pointed remark that "I was born into a destroyed order and I didn't want to reestablish an order (G. Baselitz, interviewed by D. Kuspit, in "Goth to Dance," Artforum 33, Summer 1995, p. 76).

The notion of dislocation was presaged in the very name of the village, Deutschbaselitz, near Dresden, Saxony, in which the artist was born. A compound name that reflects the split in ethnicity between Germans and Slavs, the artist substituted Baselitz for his original surname, Kern-- a reflection of his wish to be identified as German, living as he did in the German section of the bicultural area, the Deutschland of "Deutschbaselitz." The notion of a "split" in identity is further reinforced by the division between East Germany, Baselitz' birthplace, and West Germany, where the artist eventually settled. Additionally, the year of his birth, 1938, was the year of the horrific "Kristallnacht," the burning, pillaging, and virtual removal by the dominant National Socialists from German society of Jewish citizens. Later events of World War II reinforced this sense of a split in all areas of life, and thus it is not out of the question to think of Baselitz' dividing line in the present canvas in political and sociological terms, as creating a powerful metaphor for the disarray, divisions, and displacements brought about by the conditions under which the artist lived and the scenes he witnessed in early life (See R. Shiff, "Georg Baselitz Grounded," Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 28, no. 1, "Negotiating History: German Art and the Past," 2002, pp. 52 - 65).

The rejection of conventional drawing techniques, shading and volume, as well as perspective and realistic coloration comes from a conscious refutation of formal training, as well as a dismissal of Social Realism, the mandated representational style of Fascism. Equally disparaging Abstract Expressionism and Pop sensibilities, Baselitz instead adhered to a radical practice, at once expressive and figurative. Evident in the present work is a forceful, if self-conscious, "de-skilling," in which all notions of idealized beauty, harmony and mimesis are denied in favor of a resolute commitment to distortion and disfiguration. Responding to an exhibition of Baselitz's at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 1990, Gerhard Richter writes in his notes that "[Baselitz] presents painting as unswerving persistence, as a path without compromises, without controversy, without a Utopia, without a dream: simply being (breathing without meaning--a metaphor for the incomprehensibility of Being), which always 'only is,' brutal though it may be--which breathes, and nothing more" (G. Richter, 'Notes, 1990,' in Gerhard Richter Writings, 1961 - 2007, New York, 2009, p. 247).

Baselitz grounds this rejection of idealization in German fifteenth- and sixteenth-century portraiture and genre painting, in what the artist calls the "brutality" in the works of Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder, among others (G. Baselitz, interview with H. Geldzahler, in H. Geldzahler, "Georg Baselitz," Interview 14, April 1984, p. 84). Moving beyond idealization or ennoblement of the figure, these artists were concerned with bringing forward a kind of world-weariness, the expressive demarcations of character, the suggestive effects of present-day hardships rather than the incorporeal qualities of a unifying after-life. Not only the remarkable fragmentation inhering in this masterful work but also the disordering of horizontal registers and the resulting baffling physiognomy characteristic of the 'Fracture Paintings,' are expressive of the artist's desire to thwart the logic of traditional representation. The distortions and disordering of figural outline and roughened interior horizontal bands of color can further be compared to de Kooning's Women Series of the 1950s (D. Waldman, Georg Baselitz, 'Art on the Edge,' in Georg Baselitz, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1995, pp. 60-64). While fracturing the hero motif puts emphasis on surface shapes, textures and colors, very like the facets in a pictorial field of a cubist painting, larger issues not only of art historical precedent but also of the artist's place in present socio-political order are at stake. As Norman Rosenthal states, Baselitz "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; heroic because his art has consciously gone against the grain of fashion, while always remaining modern" (N. Rosenthal, "Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter," in Baselitz, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, p.15).

Through segmentation, radical cropping and disjunction, Geteilter Held treats the "Hero" motif almost as a ruin of former civilizations, an abject, martyred remainder of past and present human destruction. Indeed, the artist himself drew such a parallel between the two (D. Waldman, ibid., p. 56, note 47). In so doing, Baselitz created a statement of pictorial dynamism and expressivity, a turbulence that troubles representation even as it compels viewing. Geteilter Held's visual power lies in its vivid coloration, distorted figuration, strident contours and a pitting of unschooled representational strategies against traditional painting techniques. Such a play of forces also reflects the "disharmony and discontinuity" --the "destruction," if you will, of Baselitz's time and place, and as such is central to the artist's "unswerving" conviction that his artistic practice--boldly and masterfully on display in Geteilter Held--reflects the disorder of the world as he finds it. A hero is distorted, flayed and martyred, yet as repugnant or shocking as such imagery may seem, through Baselitz's particular genius for compositional organization, surface texture, and coloration, the artist creates a work of moving allegorical resonance, deeply compelling, immediate, and eloquent: "[what lies in front of me on the canvas] exists somewhere [already] behind the canvas or under the floor, and needs only to be captured, that it needs to be drawn and made visible... I'm a German artist and what I do is rooted in the German tradition" (G. Baselitz, in R. Shiff, op. cit., p. 49, note 33).

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