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Stilleben 1 (Still Life 1)

Stilleben 1 (Still Life 1)
signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'Mai Juni Juli 1 G Baselitz 76 Stilleben' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
63 3/8 x 51 1/8 in. (160.9 x 129.9 cm.)
Painted in 1976
Private collection, Germany
Private collection, Europe
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 27 June 2013, lot 156
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
T. Helmert-Corvey, La Vie: Karl Kerber, Der Sammler, Die Sammlung, Bielefeld 1995 (illustrated in colour, p. 45).
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Kimmy Lau
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Lot Essay

‘The object expresses nothing at all. Painting is not a means to an end. On the contrary, painting is autonomous. As I said to myself: in this case, then I must take everything, which has been an object of painting – landscape, the portrait and the nude, for example – and paint it upside-down. That is the best way to liberate representation from content’

G. Baselitz

Painted in 1976, Stilleben (Still Life) is a bold and beautiful example of Georg Baselitz’s famous ‘upside-down’ approach to painting, in which he radically inverts the picture-plane to, as he puts it, ‘liberate representation from content’ (G. Baselitz, quoted in Georg Baselitz, exh. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1995, p. 71). Here, Baselitz takes on one of art-history’s most venerable genres, depicting bottles, jugs and fruit arranged on a surface in the manner of a still life by Cézanne or Chardin. Flipped upside-down, however, we initially struggle to read these forms: the broad swathes, circles and vessels of white, blue, black, ochre and orange – in energetically applied paint which drips downwards, as if to prove by gravity that the work was painted in this orientation – look more like an Abstract Expressionist work by Willem de Kooning or Franz Kline. Figuration only gradually emerges from Baselitz’s bright chorus of brushstrokes, and when it does, we are no longer sure what it might mean.

Baselitz first experimented with ‘fracturing’ his compositions in the mid-1960s, using formal devices that reflected the scarred, ruptured nature of the post-war Germany he knew; in 1969, he went one step further, inverting his paintings to ‘empty’ them entirely of referential content. Three decades later, he reflected of this process that he ‘was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed people, a destroyed society. And I didn’t want to re-establish an order: I’d seen enough of so-called order’ (G. Baselitz, quoted in ‘Goth to Dance: Georg Baselitz in conversation with Donald Kuspit’, Artforum, vol. XXXIII, no. 10, Summer 1995, p. 78). Stilleben embodies this attitude with impressive bravura, creating a striking interplay of form and colour while also radically destabilising our relationship to painting and received meaning. One of the medium’s greatest iconoclasts, Baselitz remains fiercely devoted to his mission of forcing us to see with fresh eyes. ‘Whenever I start a painting’, he says, ‘I set out to formulate things as if I were the first one, the only one, and as if all the precedents didn’t exist – even though I know that there are thousands of precedents ranged against me. One has always to think of making something, something valid. That’s my life’ (G. Baselitz in conversation with J-L. Froment and J-M. Poinsot, 1983, in D. Gretenkort (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, London 2010, p. 71).

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