Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)

Fingermalerei - Haubentaucher (Finger Painting - Great Crested Grebe)

Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)
Fingermalerei - Haubentaucher (Finger Painting - Great Crested Grebe)
signed with the artist’s initials and dated ‘GB 72’ (lower right); signed, titled and dated ‘G. Baselitz ‘Fingermalerei-Haubentaucher’ 1972’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 ¾ x 54 ¾in. (199.5 x 140cm.)
Painted in 1972
Hansjörg Böhm, Neustadt.
Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne.
Galerie Sabine Knust, Munich.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Galerie Tobias Hirschmann, Frankfurt.
Meshulam Riklis, Beverly Hills.
His Sale, Christie’s New York, 3 May 1994, lot 49.
Private Collection, Florida.
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 13 February 2014, lot 35.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Georg Baselitz, 1986, no. 20.
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (on extended loan).
Special notice
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. These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘These motifs are intimate, there’s a personal connection… the motifs I paint – birds, landscapes, portraits, interiors – are actually very personal, very private’
–Georg Baselitz

Formerly on extended loan to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Georg Baselitz’s monumental Fingermalerei - Haubentaucher (Finger Painting - Great Crested Grebe) stems from a decisive period in his practice, marking the consolidation of his signature inverted format. From visceral, impulsive strokes, applied directly with his hands like a sculptor, Baselitz models the form of a great crested grebe, suspended upside down against a lush forest background. Executed in 1972, it is one of the earliest works within the artist’s series of Fingermalerei (‘Finger-Paintings’) created during this period, which encompassed some of his most significant motifs: notably birds, trees and self-portraits. These deeply personal subjects, brought to life through his own physical touch, embodied the artist’s desire to explore the relationship between compositional form and emotional content. By painting at 180 degrees, he placed himself at a distance from the act of pictorial representation. By using his fingers, he instead brought himself closer to the material properties of paint, relishing in its malleable, tactile qualities. Working in the aftermath of the Second World War, Baselitz sought to explore the ways in which traditionally Germanic themes – the forest, the landscape and the natural world – might be disassociated from their now-tainted symbolic connotations. His first inverted painting, created in 1969, had been Der Wald auf dem Kopf, depicting a woodland scene turned upon its head. In the year of the present work, this theme took on a new resonance for the artist, following his move to a new studio at the edge of the Black Forest. In the visions of nature and German wildlife that flooded his upside-down canvases, Baselitz asked whether – through the primal power of painting – their innocence might one day be restored.

Baselitz had been fascinated by birds since childhood. Certain species – such as the eagle – had been brutally co-opted by Fascist regimes, wrenched from the halcyon vistas of Germanic folklore into the land of political propaganda. Baselitz, who grew up in the aftermath of the country’s recent trauma, was intrigued by his youthful encounters with wildlife photography, prompting the realisation that these birds could exist independently of their symbolic associations. ‘When I was at school I made friends with a wildlife photographer’, he explained. ‘I helped him take shots of waders, which he made into a book that he gave to me. It became a kind of “motif” book. And there were eagles in that – sea eagles admittedly – but still eagles, although with no programmatic significance. These birds have distinct personalities; you can easily use them as a vehicle for symbolic meaning.’ As the artist’s intimate acquaintance with the various species developed, he found that their extraneous connotations began to dissipate: they became, he explained, ‘actually very personal, very private and consequently uninteresting in terms of their content’ (G. Baselitz in conversation with E. Weiss at Schloss Derneburg, 22 June 1975, in D. Gretenkort (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, London 2010, p. 32). The forest, too, underwent a similar shift for Baselitz. On one hand, it was deeply connected to the German psyche; on the other hand, it was his home, his daily reality and his private world. By painting both the bird and its setting upside down, Baselitz effectively drains their symbolic excess. In doing so, he invites the viewer to confront them as intimate, abstract entities, divorced from all former hierarchies of meaning.

Baselitz’s instinctive, corporeal approach to painting was deeply influenced by his encounters with Abstract Expressionism. While studying in Berlin, the artist visited the Museum of Modern Art’s ground-breaking exhibition The New American Painting, which toured Europe in 1958, as well as their major Jackson Pollock retrospective. He was particularly impressed by the latter’s all-over approach to painting, as well as the work of de Kooning, Kline and Phillip Guston. Baselitz’s use of colour, as well as his spatial innovations, were very much inspired by this new breed of American artists. Indeed, his decision to invert the traditional orientation of the canvas owes much to their break-down of the hierarchy between figure and ground. In the present work, both bird and landscape are poised on the brink of abstraction, their forms overridden by the forceful traces of the artist’s hand. As Norman Rosenthal remarks, 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’ (N. Rosenthal, ‘Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter’, in Georg Baselitz, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, p. 15). As the horrors of the recent past lingered in the world’s psyche, Baselitz proposed a clean slate for art – one that celebrated materiality over meaning.

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