‘At the time when Baselitz was painting the last of his “Heroes”, he performed radical surgery in an almost literal sense. He began to cut his figures first into two, then into more than two, horizontal sections, and to rearrange the sections with lateral displacements. This was the method that led to his “Fracture Paintings”. In these, Baselitz set out in earnest to go to extremes in violating conventional principles of pictorial construction’
‘In the paintings and drawings of this period, the “New Type” remains present to some degree. As late as 1966, there still appear figures such as Geteilter Held (Divided Hero) or Der Halbierte (The Halved Man). However, the hero prototype has undergone a fundamental change, to become a personification of closeness to nature, as exemplified for Baselitz by hunters and woodmen’
‘The Heroes paintings represent an extraordinary achievement for the artist, for in their image he found himself. Painted in less than a year, they have continued to inform all his subsequent work. Issues concerning the figure, form, colour and line, with which he had experimented since his student days, were resolved in these canvases’
Situated at a critical turning point in Georg Baselitz’s practice, Der Halbierte (The Halved) is a poetically self-reflective work that captures the artist’s transition from his Hero paintings of 1965 to the Fracture paintings that he began the following year. Rendered with rich swathes of impasto in fresh, pastoral hues, Baselitz’s Teutonic protagonist is ruptured and divided, torn between two worlds. On one hand, he is the humble woodsman: part of the cast of bucolic archetypes that came to dominate Baselitz’s practice between 1966 and 1969. On the other hand, he is the lone, gaunt half-being – the so-called Hero or New Type – that wandered through the desolate wastelands of his previous canvases. Following his move to the countryside the previous year, Baselitz had attempted to dispel the post-apocalyptic solemnity of these earlier paintings by casting fresh eyes upon traditional Germanic imagery: its forests, its pastures, its game animals, hunting dogs and forest-dwellers. The Heroes, however, continued to prey upon his psyche. Confronting his romantic subject matter as if through a shattered mirror, Baselitz began to fracture his compositions, unhinging and dislocating his trees, terrains and figures across the picture plane. In Der Halbierte, the protagonist is severed and spliced, caught between a lost age of pastoral innocence and an uprooted, destabilized post- War landscape. As a self-proclaimed ‘outsider’, who had grown up in the Eastern bloc before moving to West Germany, Baselitz’s ‘halved man’ is poignantly expressive of his own condition. It takes its place alongside the artist’s most significant works of this period, including B for Larry, 1967 (Friedrich Christian Flick Collection), Woodsmen, 1967-68 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Two Meissen Woodsmen, 1967 (Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich). Held in the same private collection for nearly forty years, the work has not been seen in public since its inclusion in the exhibition 14 mal 14 Junge deutsche Künstler at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden- Baden two years after its creation.
Conceived as self-projections, Baselitz’s disenfranchised Heroes sought to express the state of humanity in the aftermath of the Second World War, lingering like spectres in a vacant no-mans-land. In 1966, Baselitz and his young family made a decisive move to the countryside, occupying a large peasant house in the rural setting of Osthofen. Here, far from the war-torn streets of West Berlin, Baselitz conceived a new set of rural characters that spoke to his nation’s romantic past and man’s relationship with the natural world. The colours of the forest – a veritable camouflage of olive green, mahogany, grey and umber – came to dominate the artist’s palette, creating a vivid, fertile counterpart to the sombre tones of his previous output. However, still haunted by the bleak world of the Heroes, Baselitz found that these prosaic subjects had lost their symbolic potency. By submitting them to a rigorous, near-surgical process of formal disturbance, he began to question their endurance. Motifs that were once proudly Germanic were now permanently damaged, splintered into fragments and bordering on illegible. Baselitz’s fracturing technique allowed him to engage with national and art-historical stereotypes whilst fundamentally dislocating himself from those traditions. What remained, once motivic power had expired, was painting itself: the immediacy of brushwork and the grainy tactility of pigment. By permitting his medium to gain a level of independence from its subject matter, Baselitz was able to reconcile his own status as a painter in a turbulent post-War society. It was via this realisation that his Fracture paintings would ultimately give way to his signature inverted canvases in 1969.
Der Halbierte bears witness to the diverse influences that nourished Baselitz’s early practice. Unlike Polke and, to some extent, Richter – both of whom responded to American pop culture and its capitalist implications in the early 1960s – Baselitz remained attracted to a more expressive, figurative idiom. His fluid, intuitive line and gestural application of paint demonstrates his lineage in the Expressionist traditions of Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka and Die Brücke – artists whom he greatly admired. At the same time, his intricate mark-making and deliberate flattening of perspective may be understood in relation to his growing personal collection of sixteenth-century woodcuts and prints, as well as the Mannerist drawings he had encountered two years earlier on a scholarship excursion to Florence. Captivated by Chaïm Soutine’s depictions of distorted flesh, Baselitz read widely on the subject of anamorphosis, and was particularly intrigued by its manifestation in the work of the Surrealists – most notably in the cadaver exquis, based on an old parlour game in which players took it in turns to draw segments of a figure on folded sections of paper. This particular influence is palpable in the present work, whose subjects are divided by stacked, almost horizontal fissures. There is a subtle interplay between figuration and abstraction, in which recognisable forms morph into alien, disconnected fragments. In the disjuncture between the various visual registers at play, we see Baselitz attempting to construct a new language – an alternative system of representation equipped to confront the fractured, divided nature of his homeland.