GEORG BASELITZ (B. 1938)
GEORG BASELITZ (B. 1938)
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GEORG BASELITZ (B. 1938)

Frau am Strand

Details
GEORG BASELITZ (B. 1938)
Frau am Strand
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'G.B. 81 2. X.' (lower left); signed again, titled, and dated again '„Frau am Strand" 2. Okt. 81 G. Baselitz' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 5/8 x 98 ¼ in. (199.7 x 249.6 cm.)
Painted in 1981.
Provenance
Galerie Neuendorf, Hamburg
Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1982
Private collection, New York
Galerie Zwirner, Cologne
Wilfrid and Katharina Steib, Basel
Galerie Springer & Winckler, Berlin, 2000
Private collection, New York
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
H. Kramer "Art: Neo-Expressionism of Georg Baselitz," New York Times, 26 March, 1982, section C, p. 21 (illustrated incorrectly).
R. Calvocoressi, Georg Baselitz, London, 2021, p. 201 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Sonnabend Gallery, Georg Baselitz-Paintings, March 1982.
Saarbrücken, Saarland Museum, Baselitz: Werke 1981-1983, February-April 1994, p. 57, cat. no. 15 (illustrated).

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Ana Maria Celis
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Lot Essay

Currently the subject of a major retrospective at Centre Pompidou in Paris, Georg Baselitz brought about a new reckoning to the abstract human form. Operating with a heavy brush and personal style rooted in the legacy of Art Brut and German Expressionism, the painter’s devotion to bucking artistic trends continues throughout his oeuvre. Frau am Strand is a stunning example of Baselitz’s ability to upend the picture plane and merge emotive brushwork with figurative representation, and comes from a particularly fruitful period in his oeuvre; another Frau am Strand painting is included in the Pompidou show. “The '80s helped me to rearrange everything,” he remarked, “I was able to set up a whole range of ideas and experiences anew, which meant I was able to break everything down so I could make something out of it again” (G. Baselitz, quoted in P. Kort, “Georg Baselitz talks to Pamela Kort - ‘80s Then – Interview,” ArtForum, April 2003, p. 208). Constantly looking to challenge both himself and the status quo, Baselitz has never rested on his laurels. Each new shift in style brings about further exploration of painting as a whole and remarks on his particular place within its history.

“Baselitz was still a painter in a world dominated by abstraction and later the beginnings of conceptual art… The challenge from Baselitz was to find a way to break loose from the subject and yet remain true to himself as an artist, and especially as a painter. His problem was how to be part of the Zeitgeist and yet also to remain outside it.” Norman Rosenthal

Rendered on a heavily worked yellow ground, Frau am Strand (Woman on the Beach) is divided into two horizontal sections by a thick black and blue line. This visual incision into the picture plane serves to separate the lower, more spare portion from the upper area that contains the titular female subject. True to the artist’s signature style, this character is portrayed floating in space, their body sometimes outlined in dark, painterly strokes while elsewhere it seeps into the background. Using bloody red and a mixture of buttery yellow over deeper shades, Baselitz constructs a rough-hewn form that vibrates with visual energy. The head is turned in profile with a bald scalp and a large red nose. A single blue eye pierces the yellow face and links it formally to the dividing line below as well as the cornflower underpainting that emerges from the bottom of the canvas. The artist has described his process, noting, “a painting is built one brushstroke at a time. You can see the figure or you can see the brushstrokes. It doesn’t really matter to the painter” (G. Baselitz, quoted in, M. Auping, “Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke”, in Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke, exh. cat., Fort Worth, Museum of Modern Art, 1997-1999, p. 30). This equilibrium between the color field, the lines and strokes, and the fiery figure is typical of Baselitz, and is a testament to his ability to successfully reconcile representational content with abstract formalism.

Born in East Germany, Baselitz studied painting in East Berlin until he was expelled for views antithetical to the school’s governance. He was able to move to West Germany in 1956, and there he resumed his studies at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste in West Berlin. There, he began to read the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Baudelaire, and Samuel Beckett, as well as the theoretical treatises of Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, among others. The young painter was enthralled with this new information, and it heavily influenced his early work. The dominant mode at the time was known as tachisme, a style that had corollaries to the American school of Abstract Expressionism, but Baselitz rejected this prevailing trend and began his investigation of the figure as a descendant of artists like Oskar Kokoschka and the painter group Die Brücke. Curator Norman Rosenthal noted, “Baselitz was still a painter in a world
dominated by abstraction and later the beginnings of conceptual art… The challenge from Baselitz was to find a way to break loose from the subject and yet remain true to himself as an artist, and especially as a painter. His problem was how to be part of the Zeitgeist and yet also to remain outside it” (N. Rosenthal, “Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter”, in Baselitz, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, p. 18). Treading carefully on the border between full figural representation and pure abstraction, Baselitz established his own powerful iconography somewhere between the expressive color fields of his peers and the diaristic canvases of his predecessors.

Beginning in 1969, Baselitz made the momentous decision to begin painting all of his compositions contrary to conventional portraiture. Gravity was thrown away and figures hung from the top of his canvases in painterly zero-G. By doing so, he made the subject matter subservient to the formal elements and produced an uneasy truce between the two. No longer were the works easily rectified as paintings of figures. Rather, they became paintings that contained figures as a means of highlighting the expressive nature of the work. Baselitz remarked that “the figure cannot conquer the painting. It makes a diplomatic treaty with it to create a certain type of spatial configuration” (G. Baselitz quoted in, M. Auping, op. cit., p. 20). Though he still heartily acknowledged the existence of the human form in his paintings (and often vacillated between depicting a number of prescribed ‘types’), they were now part of a larger inquiry instead of the sole focus. In the 1980s, subject matter began to take slightly more primacy in his work although he continued to remain true to his compositional balancing act. Studies base on the work of Edvard Munch or takes on Christian themes began to filter into his canvases, but these served as enriching tangents rather than full-fledged diversions.

“The '80s helped me to rearrange everything. I was able to set up a whole range of ideas and experiences anew, which meant I was able to break everything down so I could make something out of it again.” Georg Baselitz

Looking at Frau am Strand one can see this shift as the abstract field with floating figure could just as well be a birds-eye view of a woman lying on the golden sand of a beach. This ambiguity when it comes to spatial arrangements is key to Baselitz’s work as he toys with the viewer’s understanding of the picture plane. By forcing multiple readings, he asks the audience to consider their preconceptions of illusionistic space as well as the very surface of the painted canvas.
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