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signed with the artist's initials 'GB' (center); signed 'G. Baselitz' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated 'Baselitz' 65 'Spekulatius' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
64 x 51 3⁄8 in. (162.6 x 130.5 cm.)
Painted in 1965.
Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne
Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Count Christian Dürckheim, Cologne
His sale; Sotheby’s, London, 29 June 2011, lot 24
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Diners Club Magazin, October 1979, p. 33 (illustrated).
Georg Baselitz, Dipinti 1965-1987, exh. cat., Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, 1988, p. 32 (installation view illustrated).
F. Dahlem and A. Muthesius, Baselitz, Cologne, 1990, p. 84 (installation view illustrated).
C. Schulz-Hoffmann, Kunstwerke 1: Georg Baselitz Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst, Munich, 1993, p. 25, no. 14 (illustrated).
Georg Baselitz, exh. cat., Bologna, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, 1997, pp. 16-17 (installation view illustrated).
Jean Dubuffet, Anticultural Positions, exh. cat., New York, Acquavella Galleries, 2016, p. 17, fig. 6 (illustrated).
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 14 x 14 Junge deutsche Künstler: Georg Baselitz/ Dieter Haack, 1968.
Munich, Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst, 1993-2007 (on extended loan).
Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Baselitz Academy, May-September 2019, pp. 124-125 (illustrated).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Atowering figure in the history of twentieth-century German art, Georg Baselitz has continued to push the limits of figurative painting throughout his career. Part of his pivotal The New Type or Heroes series, Spekulatius is a dramatic example of the artist’s early revolutions in abstraction. Though he eschewed the dominant Socialist Realism of East Germany when he was beginning as an artist, the present example and the rest of the Heroes take on some of that movement’s subjects while adhering to a more active, fluid style. Painted in 1965 when Baselitz had returned to West Berlin after spending several months living abroad in Florence, canvases like Spekulatius present robust uniformed figures that have a visual presence beyond their stoic personas. “Rather than smoothly limning its edges and celebrating the human casement, his line falters and fragments,” writes art historian Morgan Falconer (M. Falconer, in Painting Beyond Pollock, New York, Phaidon, 2015). At odds with the state-sponsored artwork he was exposed to as a child, the artist strayed from chiseled characters of governmental ideals and veered back toward the emotive qualities of his expressive forefathers. The crisp, bodily depiction of the working class began to disintegrate as Baselitz gave in to the striking complexity of his materials.

Rendered on an off-white ground, the central figure is dressed in loose black pants and a black jacket opened to reveal the reddened flesh of their chest. With head tilted upward, the subject raises their arms at the elbows in a position that seems to echo the paintings of religious epiphanies and ecstasies in the Western art historical canon. While clearly discernible, Baselitz paints his subject with a thick, liquid application of oil that threatens to overthrow any semblance of form. Art historian Richard Shiff, in a 2007 exhibition catalogue, noted, “Baselitz never allowed his marks to become calligraphy, that is, to become beautiful in themselves. Each attains its own ugliness by becoming a bit too big […]. Oversized, coarsened, each pulls apart from its neighbor even when it is part of a decorative pattern, resulting in pockets of local disharmony.” (R. Shiff, “Feet too Big,” Baselitz, exh. cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2007, p. 27). The figure holds a curl of wire or another serpentine object, possibly a whip, in their left hand, and something cylindrical, like the stem from a branch, juts from their pocket. Though the artist’s signature sits at the bottom edge of the composition, his initials, ‘GB’, are inscribed below the subject’s belt in an almost liquid, painterly hand. An outline of bare feet is inscribed over the dark ground that extends from the pants, they could be read as mantraps used to snare feet, and this conflagration of space further muddies when one notes the dots and lines of red and black on the ground plane beneath Baselitz’s subject. Is it blood? Dirt? Or perhaps it is the artist’s effort to meld the ecstatic figure back into the very paint with which it is rendered.

Spekulatius was a part of Count Christian Duerckheim’s substantial art collection. Forced from his home at a young age as the ravages of WWII swept across Saxony, the collector grew up in Bavaria and always felt a kinship with the young artists who were also dealing with a communal reinvestigation of national identity. Duerckheim was born close to where Baselitz grew up, and so he had a special affinity for the painter’s work, noting, “It brings us together . . . Saxony is always a bit haunted . . . The spirit is so very important . . . Baselitz painted the forest of his home in Saxony but he couldn’t go there.

When you see pictures of the forest in his paintings, it’s beautiful, but behind the beauty is desire for home, and behind that is communist power and misuse of it. His heart was crying.” (C. Duerckheim, quoted in J. Wullschlager, “‘Germany Divided’ - Duerckheim collection at the British Museum,” Financial Times, January 31, 2014). Among Duerckheim’s significant collection of 1960s and 1970s German art, Baselitz occupied a star position. The conscious construction of a larger narrative amid myriad canvases and drawings helped to establish a more unified voice for this generation of artists.

Baselitz was seven years old when World War II ended, and much of his career has been spent reflecting on and coming to terms with his country’s new identity after the war. Though it is not always obvious, in earlier works like Spekulatius, the effects of postwar ideologies are more evident. “What I could never escape was Germany, and being German” (G. Baselitz quoted in N. Rosenthal, Baselitz, Michigan, 2007, p. 36). Coming of age in East Germany, the pervading style was that of Social Realism, but Baselitz was reticent to embrace this state-sanctioned manner of painting as he looked increasingly to break from traditions. The work of his colleagues like Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke embraced some of the ideals espoused by American Pop and its critique on capitalism, but Baselitz eschewed these influences by aligning himself with a longer tradition of European painting, including Edvard Munch, Donatello and the Mannerist painters plus German woodblock prints (the title also hints at a traditional woodblock mould used for making ‘Spekulatius’ (Spekulaas) biscuits.

In 1958, a twenty-year-old Baselitz happened to see a traveling exhibition in Berlin of works from some of the leaders of American Abstract Expressionism. Among them were paintings by Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Willem de Kooning. De Kooning in particular intrigued Baselitz as the former had developed a practice that effectively married abstraction and figuration in a manner not previously seen by the young artist. Inspired, Baselitz began experimenting with similar motifs, later expressing “most of what you see as freedom is de Kooning,” (G. Baselitz, quoted in M. Prodger, “Down on the upside: the topsy-turvy painting of George Baselitz”, New Statesman, March 2014). Working with a dramatic palette and an eye for innovative composition, the German artist took de Kooning’s oeuvre as a catalyst for further exploration.

Painted in 1965, four years before Baselitz stumbled upon his now-signature inversion technique, Spekulatius is a vibrant example of the artist’s search for his own place within the narrative of painting. Though the figure is presented in a more traditional arrangement, the seeds of change are clearly visible in the frenetic, pulsing manner in which the artist applies the paint to his composition. Looking back at this time, he noted, “Before I started to invert the motif, I painted pictures which anticipated certain elements in this kind of painting, although they were less blatant and obvious. In these earlier pictures, the figurative motifs were fragmented and eventually allowed to wander at will around the canvas. If you stop fabricating motifs but still want to carry on painting, then inverting the motif is the obvious thing to do. The hierarchy which has the sky at the top and the earth at the bottom is, in any case, only a convention. We have got used to it, but we don't have to believe in it. ... What I wanted was quite simply to find a way of making pictures, perhaps with a new sense of detachment. That's all." (G. Baselitz quoted in an interview with W. Grasskamp, 1984, cited in Georg Baselitz, Cologne, 1990, p. 28). Never satisfied with following the visual trends, Baselitz was constantly experimenting and pushing his work in order to break from the prescribed notion of what figurative painting could be in the middle of the twentieth century.

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