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Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)
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Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)

Elke, 1965

Details
Georg Baselitz (b. 1938)
Elke, 1965
signed, titled and dated ''Elke 1965' G. Baselitz 15, VIII, 96' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
157½ x 118 1/8in. (400 x 300cm.)
Painted in 1996
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.
Literature
Exhibited
New York, Pace Wildenstein, Georg Baselitz, Recent Paintings, 1997, pp. 26 and 35 (illustrated in colour, p. 27 and detail illustrated in colour, on the cover).
Bologna, Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, Georg Baselitz, 1997, p. 187 (illustrated in colour, p. 149 and installation view illustrated, p. 165).
Genoa, Palazzo della Borsa, Baselitz in Italia, 2004-2005, p. 54 (illustrated in colour, p. 55).
Special notice

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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Annemijn van Grimbergen

Lot Essay

‘We have lived very closely together since we met in 1958. We hardly spend any time apart. So I am always around... In Georg’s paintings, the subject doesn’t always matter—if the image is a tree, a flower, a bird, or me. What is important is the painting itself’ (E. Baselitz, quoted in M. Auping, Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, 1997-1999, p. 13).

‘I want to be neutral, but I realize that I can’t be totally neutral. But that’s what I try to be. I try to keep a neutral attitude but it’s impossible to stop personal things from getting mixed up with it. I don’t illustrate Elke. If anything, I try to remove her, but I usually can’t. She comes into the process whether I want it or not, through the back of my mind. Neutrality is a myth, but you cannot give up the fight. You have to fight the conventions of the genre and the subject itself in order to make something new. The point of portraiture is to leave the portrait behind so that you can go forward’ (G. Baselitz, quoted in M. Auping, Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, 1997-1999, p. 30).

Painted with a lyrical passion in a brilliant array of vibrant colours, Elke 1965 is a romantic celebration of the enduring love between Georg Baselitz and his wife, Elke Kretzschmar Baselitz, a definitive relationship in the artist’s life. Composed as a tender love letter to a beloved wife, here Baselitz recalls Elke as a young woman in the early years of their marriage. Executed on 15 August 1996 in his signature inverted style, the painting belongs to a reflective series in which Baselitz meditates on memories of his family, mediated through photographs from his early life. Married to the artist for over fifty years, Elke remains a prevailing subject within her husband’s portraiture, a mark of the love Baselitz holds for her and evidence of the support she has offered him throughout his career. In many ways, for Baselitz painting Elke is a form of self-portraiture; she represents as important a subject as himself. As one of Baselitz’s largest canvases to date the vast scale of the present work encapsulates the privileged position Elke holds in the artist’s wide-ranging oeuvre; in 1997 a dedicated retrospective of his many representations of Elke, ‘Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke’, was held at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. Portraits illustrating Elke from throughout the artist’s career are held in major museum collections including Elke (1976) (Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas) and Nude Elke (1977) (Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven).

In Elke 1965 the figure, silhouetted in black, is set within a whirlwind of instinctive brushwork executed in an energetic chromatic scheme of bright, exclamatory primary colours, evoking the youthful Elke of Baselitz’s imagination. Turned seductively from the viewer, eyes coyly averted with her hand held to her forehead, Baselitz illuminates the irresistible allure of his wife, the sensuality of his approach evident in his physical application of paint. In this intimate portrait the artist’s creative energy is palpable in the gestural, layered interplay of red, green and ochre, the semi-translucent brushwork revealing the luminous white primed canvas beneath. Negotiating the expanse of canvas, the artist’s footprints are visible in the upper body of the figure, as though attempting to viscerally engage with his memory. Rendered in the same saffron tone as the halo of richly applied paint that surrounds her upper body, the fgure emerges as an organic extension of her surroundings; integrated into the fabric of the paint, through the impassioned dynamism of the drips, splatters and overpainting that characterise the present work Baselitz evokes a touching memory of his wife, just three years after their marriage in 1962.

The 1960s were a time of great change and happiness for the Baselitz family: married with their frst child in 1962, the birth of their second son in 1966 was swiftly followed by a relocation from West Berlin to rural Osthofen. Awarded a scholarship to study at the Villa Romana in Florence, accompanied by Elke Baselitz spent six months studying Mannerist printmaking, an experience that was to have an enormous influence on his subsequent celebrated Heroes series. Executed in the mid-1960s, the Heroes mark a definitive moment in the artist’s career, meditating on the fragmentation of his ravaged homeland in the wake of the Second World War. Reflective of Baselitz’s own sense of isolation as a former East German now living in the West, the Heroes represent ‘outsiders’, associated with the fgure of the artist, wandering through what he saw as the barren cultural landscape of Post-War Germany. Contemplating this new and incomprehensible world Baselitz began to explore his sense of dislocation by fracturing his paintings, each rupture challenging the legibility of the figurative image. Exploring this displacement and dissociation marked the critical step towards Baselitz’s inversion of his subject. It is within the context of this pivotal decade that Baselitz reflects on his wife in Elke 1965.

The inversion of the image has come to be a touchstone for Baselitz’s practice over the course of his career – a visual device intended to free his compositions from any simplistic or literal reading, as well as disorienting and distancing the artist both from his subject and the conventions of portraiture. A pioneer in the redefinition of the genre in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries, the upside-down strategy engages with and challenges its parameters. For Baselitz, this inversion was ‘the best way to liberate the portrayal of content’ (G. Baselitz, quoted in, R.M. Mason, ‘Image and Painting’, Georg Baselitz: Painting and Sculpture 1960-2008, exh. cat., Salzburg, Museum der Moderne, 2009, p. 37). Coinciding with his first inversions, in 1969 Baselitz painted his earliest portrait of his wife, Portrait Elke I (1969), an upside-down painting in muted colours, executed with delicate brushstrokes and a quiet confidence imbued in him by the subject of this innovative work. In the early 1970s, Baselitz undertook a series of nude paintings of himself and Elke. Radical, bold and unabashed, paintings such as Elke (1976) equal those seminal self-portraits made by Baselitz in the early-1970s made with the very tips of his fingers. A unique double portrait, Bedroom (1975), depicts Baselitz and Elke, both nude, sitting side by side, the intimate composition a perfect example of the equilibrium that exists between the two, the harmonious palette contributing to this vision of domestic tranquility. For Baselitz, painting is a way in which to shed light on the artist. ‘Everything is a self-portrait’, he has said. ‘Whether it’s a tree or a nude. It’s how the artist sees it. What’s important is to paint in certain traditions, in certain genres. That’s all I really want to do, just like any other artist … Everything that you see is a reflection of yourself’ (G. Baselitz, quoted in, M. Auping, Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, 1997-1999, p. 15). Within this context Elke represents an emotional vehicle, illustrating the mood of a moment etched into his memory. Evaluating their deep emotional connection and the symmetry that exists between them within Baselitz’s painting, Fabrice Hergott has observed, ‘She was the refection of the artist, his female double’ (F. Hergott, ‘The Interior Surface’, in Baselitz, exh. cat., Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, 1997, p. 161).

Baselitz’s painting is a constant struggle in the artist’s quest for neutrality and distance within his art; rendering a model to whom he is so emotionally attached captures this endeavour. As Baselitz has explained, ‘I want to be neutral, but I realize that I can’t be totally neutral. But that’s what I try to be. I try to keep a neutral attitude but it’s impossible to stop personal things from getting mixed up with it. I don’t illustrate Elke. If anything, I try to remove her, but I usually can’t. She comes into the process whether I want it or not, through the back of my mind. Neutrality is a myth, but you cannot give up the fight. You have to fght the conventions of the genre and the subject itself in order to make something new. The point of portraiture is to leave the portrait behind so that you can go forward’ (G. Baselitz, quoted in M. Auping, Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, 1997-1999, p. 30). In admitting his failure to remain impassive when painting Elke, Baselitz demonstrates her essential position within his canon of subjects. Downplaying her significant role within her husband’s work, Elke has observed, ‘We have lived very closely together since we met in 1958. We hardly spend any time apart. So I am always around . . . . In Georg’s paintings, the subject doesn’t always matter—if the image is a tree, a flower, a bird, or me. What is important is the painting itself’ (E. Baselitz, quoted in M. Auping, Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, 1997-1999, p. 13). Yet the expressive contours and dream-like composition of Elke 1965 demonstrate that for Baselitz Elke is not a subject like any other, but his mirror image and equal.

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