Hermann Nitsch (b. 1938)
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Hermann Nitsch (b. 1938)

Das Letzte Abendmahl (The Last Supper)

Hermann Nitsch (b. 1938)
Das Letzte Abendmahl (The Last Supper)
signed, inscribed and dated twice '(...) 1976-1979 (...), hermann nitsch 1979' (lower right)
graphite and ballpoint pen on paper laid down on canvas
59 7/8 x 144 7/8in. (152 x 368cm.)
Executed in 1976-79
Galerie Heike Curtze, Vienna.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
London, Saatchi Gallery, The Triumph of Painting- Part I, 2005-2006 (illustrated in colour, pp. 102-103). This exhibition later travelled to Leeds, City Art Gallery.
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VAT rate of 17.5% is payable on hammer price plus buyer's premium
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.

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Lot Essay

Echoing Leonardo da Vincis' fresco of the Last Supper in Milan, this vast, nearly four metre long pen and pencil drawing graphically represents Hermann Nitsch's own unique take on this most enduring of religious themes and art historical subjects.

Conceived as part of an 'action' that took place at the French Cultural Institute in Milan in November 1976 it comprises a portrait of Christ with his twelve disciples as visceral and digestive entities indulging in a kind of ritualized and cannibalistic blood transfusion. With each figure rendered in the clinical manner of an anatomical drawing that openly displays the visceral and material nature of their bodies, (their muscles, skeleton and internal organs), the work is a kind of existential meditation on the sanctity of the Eucharist - Christs mystical transformation, of matter into spirit.

The dominant feature of the work is an extraordinary fluid line that seems to flow and meander throughout the composition in such a way as to suggest the inherent connectedness of all elements of life. Leading the viewers eye effortlessly, like a path of energy, from one figure to the other as if it too were a metaphor for the mystical flow of life-blood from Christ to his followers, the picture renders a ritualized scene of the communion of the flesh in a way that deliberately emulates Nitschs own celebrated and highly ritualized 'Actions'.

One of the leading members of the Viennese 'Action' group that sprung up in the early 1960s, Nitsch is best known for his elaborate ritualized re-workings of the central and archetypal themes of religion - Communion, Sacrifice, Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection - in visceral, primordial and often orgiastic form. 'I want to display the whole development of human consciousness', he has said, 'my drama should give dramatic shape to every myth, every religion of the world' (M. Green (ed.), Writings of the Vienna Actionists, New York 1999, p. 190).

Embracing the visceral, organic, physical and existential nature of human mortality and reinvigorating it with a primordial sense of myth and ritual, Nitschs highly atavistic art aims, through a blasphemous reworking of religious sacrement to revitalize modernitys broken and fragmented sense of existence and experience.

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