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Stilleben 1 (Still Life 1)

Stilleben 1 (Still Life 1)
signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'Mai Juni Juli 1 G Baselitz 76 Stilleben' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
160.9 x 129.9 cm. (63 3/8 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1976
Private Collection, Germany
Private Collection, Europe
Sotheby's London, 27 June 2013, Lot 156
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale by the previous owner)
Christie's Hong Kong, 26 May 2018, Lot 58
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
T. Helmert-Corvey, Kerber, La Vie: Karl Kerber, Der Sammler, Die Sammlung, Bielefeld, 1995 (illustrated, p. 45).
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Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

'Painting in comparison with the real world is bullshit…The alternative was to paint abstract, but that was not my way…I just put it upside down, and when I did the first painting this way it was a complete liberation for me and I wanted to influence all the others.' —Georg Baselitz

Painted in 1976, Stilleben 1 (Still Life 1) is an iconic and celebrated example of Georg Baselitz’s famous ‘inverted’ paintings. In this work, Baselitz takes on one of the most essential and fundamental subjects in Western art history, to illustrate bottles, jugs, and assorted fruit on a table. Because of his upside-down approach, it could be difficult at first glance to make sense of these forms: bold swathes, an array of circles, vessels in white, blue, black, ochre, and orange… one cannot help but recall the Abstract Expressionist works by Willem de Kooning or Franz Kline. At the same time, the artist’s robust brushstrokes create downward trickles of paint, leveraging gravity to subtly prove to the world that he did in fact paint in this orientation. This novel upside-down approach to painting breaks the established relationship between imagery and reality, establishing Baselitz’s distinctive and elevated concept. In the artist’s own words, ‘The object expresses nothing at all. Painting is not a means to an end. On the contrary, painting is autonomous. As I said to myself: in this case, then I must take everything, which has been an object of painting—landscape, the portrait and the nude, for example—and paint it upside-down. That is the best way to liberate representation from content’(G. Baselitz, quoted in Georg Baselitz, exh. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1995, p. 71).

Baselitz’s works are intensely autobiographical, reflecting the artist’s eventful life. Born 1938 in Deutschbaselitz, East Germany (now part of Kamenz), the artist grew up under the rule of the German Democratic Republic. Although he was admitted to Hochschule für Bildende und Angewandte Kunst in East Berlin in 1956, he was soon expelled for ‘sociopolitical immaturity’. In 1957, he was admitted to the Hochschule der Künste in West Berlin, where he graduated in 1961 and adopted the surname Baselitz as tribute to his home town, thus beginning his lifelong quest to challenge traditions and conventions in the arts. It is within this context that Stilleben 1 (Still Life 1) expresses the artist’s memory of growing up amidst post-war strive and ruin, reflecting his insistence on rebellion against authority.

From the late 1960s, Baselitz began to experiment with inverted paintings using his own photography and memory as reference. He aimed at a brand-new form of artistic expression that goes beyond the binary opposition between figurative or abstract art, moving consciously away from the cold and distant Conceptual Art that dominated the art world at the time. In 1969, he went one step further by literally flipping his paintings upside-down to ‘empty’ them of referential content. Stilleben 1 (Still Life 1) is a perfect example of this form that celebrates the synergy between forms and colours. In doing so, it also subverts our relationship with the work and its messaging towards us. Baselitz's passion for making us see things in brand new ways is clearly demonstrated by his unconventional techniques. ‘Whenever I start a painting’, he says, ‘I set out to formulate things as if I were the first one, the only one, and as if all the precedents didn’t exist—even though I know that there are thousands of precedents ranged against me. One has always to think of making something, something valid. That’s my life’ (G. Baselitz in conversation with J-L. Froment and J-M. Poinsot, 1983, in D. Gretenkort (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, London 2010, p. 71).

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