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Enduring Threads: The Collection of Jacques and Emy Cohenca

Mann mit Tablett

Mann mit Tablett
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'G.B. 20.XI.82' (lower right); signed, titled and dated again 'G. Baselitz 20.XI.82 Mann mit Tablett' (on the reverse)
oil and charcoal on canvas
98 1/2 x 78 3/4 in. (250.2 x 200 cm.)
Executed in 1982.
Xavier Fourcade Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1983

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

“I begin with an idea, but as I work, the picture takes over. Then there is the struggle between the idea I preconceived... and the picture that fights for its own life.” - Georg Baselitz

Georg Baselitz has pushed the medium of painting to its limits in a career-long exploration of color, form, and abstraction. Completed just one year after his first solo exhibition in New York, the monumental Mann mit Tablett is awe-inspiring at nearly eight-and-a-half feet by six-and-a-half feet. This life-size, mural-like composition absorbs the viewer in a dance of pigment and charcoal that mesmerizes with its blues, pinks, and reds. It is difficult to overstate Baselitz’s influence, and Mann mit Tablett is among his most technically virtuosic and affecting works. As artist and critic Jutta Koether writes, “[Baselitz’s] paintings break with his conception of the heroic portrait, thereby enabling the work to acknowledge the presence of the viewer and to leave a space for the personal experience of the paintings” (J. Koether, “Georg Baselitz at Galerie Michael Werner,” Artforum, February 1992, This brave and innovative relationship to painting is strongly felt in Mann mit Tablett. Kept in the same private collection since it was painted, this canvas is the pinnacle of a wildly creative period for the artist.

Completed while Baselitz was living near Arezzo in Tuscany, Mann mit Tablett (translated as Man with a Tray) is a compelling mixture of colors and textures. Bold pigments leap from a field of grey, creating an intriguing contrast. It is as if these lustrous hues have emerged from rainclouds, which are equally stunning in their own right. Composed largely of expertly placed vertical marks, Mann mit Tablett presents the title character as an otherworldly red being, painted upside down in Baselitz’s signature manner. In 1969, Baselitz began painting his canvases upside down so as to oscillate between abstraction and figuration, and to reinvigorate painting with a totally new technique.

In Mann mit Tablett, this strategy creates an inverted scene filled with beauty and mystery. The melting figure is holding a tray, and on it resides a small and fantastical still life that recalls Pablo Picasso or Juan Gris. Behind the figure is a gridded entity, perhaps a window-filled building glowing in the night. Mann mit Tablett is a testament to Baselitz’s resolute individuality. As he recalls, “I became an artist because of the possibility it gave me to develop in another way, because I didn’t want to follow the same lines the others around me did” (K. Abou-Sabe and D. Gimelson, “New Again: Georg Baselitz,” Interview, March 12, 2014,  Nowhere is this innovative attitude more apparent than in Mann mit Tabelett.

Baselitz’s celebrated career has spanned six decades. Growing up among the desolation in the wake of World War II, he was already a promising artist at 15 years old. Expelled from school after refusing to accept socialist ideals, Baselitz went on to complete his studies at West Berlin’s Academy of Art. Eschewing the Socialist Realism that was prominent in his native East Germany, Baselitz instead used ambiguity and abstraction to productive ends, all in an effort to explore the boundaries of his chosen media. In this way, the artist found perennial inspiration in German Expressionism as he challenged the representational expectations for painting. In the following decades, Baselitz pioneered a variety of styles, which constantly evolved and expanded. He was inspired by Art Brut, Surrealism, and Dada, but his oeuvre has always been unmistakably his own. Artist Carroll Dunham rightly observes of Baselitz, “He has been a badass for a long time, and his extraordinary career gives us one example of what real resistance looks like” (C. Dunham, “Georg Baselitz: Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden,” Artforum, October 2018,

The present work was created the same year as Baselitz’s inclusion in documenta 7, and just two years after he represented Germany at the 1980 Venice Biennale alongside Anselm Kiefer. Baselitz’s first retrospective was organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1995, which toured internationally. The Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris mounted a retrospective in 2011-2012, and in 2015 he participated in the Venice Biennale a second time. He became the first living artist to have an exhibition at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice in 2019. His work was the subject of a critically celebrated 2018 retrospective at the Fondation Beyeler, Switzerland, and at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. Most recently, his largest retrospective to date opened at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2021, and his work is held in numerous international public and private collections.

To this day, Baselitz continues to be a leader in the discourse on painting, and he has doubtless inspired generations of artists. Mann mitt Tablett is a towering achievement, a canvas of unparalleled skill and sensitivity to color. From a tumultuous childhood in a world turned upside down by war, Baselitz turned trauma into something generative. His work is a bridge between European and American lineages of postwar art that remains necessary and captivating.

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